I am pleased to share that the folks at Reason provided me with an opportunity to review Rachel Maddow’s new work on the radical right:
I’m excited to share a recent interview with Matt Kibbe of Free the People. We discussed my recent work on Woodrow Wilson, FDR, the birth of the information state, and current changes in conservative foreign policy opinion.
Check it out:
Listen: Kibbe On Liberty – TheBlaze
A special thanks to Patrick MacFarlane for having me on his show, Vital Dissent to talk about my work and current strains of noninterventionism on both the left and the right.
And, in case you missed it links are below to the articles that we discussed.
The recent drip of think pieces regarding the resurrection of conscription inspired me to revisit the antiwar ads featured below.
They are some haunting stuff designed to tug at the heartstrings. I first ran into them while researching at the Hoover Presidential Library, specifically while pouring through the Senator Gerald Nye Papers. As you can see, the images feature a mother tossing their smiling child with the text “To be Killed in Action” superimposed above.
The center image and the one on the right are posters/flyers related to a speaking tour put on by Senator Gerald Nye in order to sell the public on the newly proposed Neutrality Act, itself the result of his famed “Special Committee on Investigation of the Munitions Industry,” colloquially known as the Nye Committee.
The Nye speaking tour poster and flyer make explicit and repeated references to the Great War as a mistake, one not to be repeated. Lost in the “Good War,” mythologizing the once apolitical and visceral opposition to the war in the United States in the wake of World War I, sentiments that carried through in Congress.
I’ve looked into the ad’s origins and cannot pin it down for certain, although it appears that it at least ran in Esquire magazine.
I have not found anything on the ad’s origins except for one other appearance on a vintage ad blog that places its origins in 1939, which can’t be correct as the copies I ran into have it at least as early as 1935. According to said blog:
The ad from a group called World Peaceways, in NYC is from 1939 before America entered WWII is remarkable in the fact that it ran as a full-page advertisement in an issue of “Woman’s Home Companion,” a mainstream woman’s magazine. It appeared alongside recipes for the 1930’s housewife for husband pleasin’ meals and advise on hanging dainty curtains. The contrasts between the usual vintage advertising to women and a daring war protest ad was startling.War, What is it Good For? | Envisioning The American Dream
If you’ve come this far, read the ads; they’re jarring historical documents. And even if you possess a completely orthodox view of “isolationism” and America’s entry into the war, I hope you can glean a modicum of sympathy for those who desired to stay out of Europe’s growing travails. Most simply didn’t want their children to die half a world away.
Is that so hard to comprehend?
Thanks to the Libertarian Institute for publishing my latest article, “Enemies Above: The FBI and the Creation of the Brown Scare Myth.” It highlights the role of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in propagating the “Brown Scare,” and its implications for modern politics.
Check it out:
While researching chapter four of my dissertation, “Partisans of the Old Republic,” I stumbled upon a speech given by Representative Ronald Brooks Cameron (D-CA), entitled Who is Doing the Devil’s Work in American Politics?” on 20 May 1963. In his address, Cameron he lambasted the John Birch Society and its influence on conservative politics. His use of rhetoric, guilt by association, arguments from hypotheticals, and hyperbole is a useful window into the era’s crazed political climate and a useful tool for understanding our own political inanities.
The Birchers became a tool of political rhetoric and discipline, one used to limit the Overton Window and rein in the then-growing conservative movement. In a speech on the floor of the House of Representatives, Cameron[i] used the specter of the far-right to assail the John Birch Society and other conservative organizations and individuals within its orbit. Cameron’s speech, “Who is Doing the Devil’s Work in American Politics?” sought to tie the already controversial Birchers to the openly antisemitic Gerald L. K. Smith and his periodical Cross and the Flag. Cameron then used the fear of these two groups to question the legitimacy of the emerging conservative movement, declaring, “[w]e are all aware that democracy is under attack by the radical right.” After warning about the fate of democracy, he prefaced his accusations with a reminder of Robert Welch’s more outlandish claims; among them, President Eisenhower and John Foster Dulles were agents of the international communist conspiracy. Cameron further warned that the members of the society had already “infiltrated” Congress.
As with the America First Committee three decades earlier, Cameron highlighted and amplified the tenuous connection between these two camps of the right and then used the proximity of other conservative figures to the John Birch Society to control the Overton Window. His evidence of such a connection was Smith’s professed affinity for the John Birch Society due to its staunch anti-communism. He quoted Smith as declaring that “[f]ollowers of mine who have access to our literature should attend the John Birch Society meetings in their community.” However, Cameron noted that Smith complained that the society did not center its conspiracism on antisemitism. Cameron quoted Smith as lamenting that the Birchers “not only do not discuss the Jewish issue but once in a while they are tempted to bite a little flesh out of some of us who have dared to discuss the Jewish issue.”
Despite Welch’s refusal to cross the line of open antisemitism, Cameron nevertheless saw these connections as profoundly troubling. He declared that “[t]hus we have evidence that the parasites of religious and racial prejudice are crawling into bed with the John Birch Society”. He added, “I shudder to think of the hideous offspring of such a mating.”
With the toxicity of the John Birch Society magnified, Cameron warned that society continued to use its influence to shape policy and governance. Cameron’s target of choice was the Americans for Constitutional Action (ACA) and their access to members of Congress. He asserted that half of the ACA leadership were members of the John Birch Society and that the ACA maintained numerous other financial connections with the society. He stated that the ACA attached itself “like a political leech” to Congress and could “transfer the image of respectable conservatism to radical rightwing extremism.” Throughout the rest of his speech, he called out the identities of alleged Birchers, including several prominent Old Right noninterventionists and members of the Citizen’s Foreign Aid Committee (CFAC). Among the names mentioned by Cameron were the “enthusiastic Bircher,” former congressman Howard Buffet and CFAC member General Bonner Fellers. He also noted that the ACA distributed materials from the “reactionary” Dan Smoot.
To cap off his speech, Cameron invoked the recent history of Europe’s experiences with totalitarianism. He warned that while the danger of such organizations was minimal during regular times, he caveated this by asserting Americans were enduring an environment perilously close to those which ushered in communism and Nazism. For him, the Cold War constituted “a crisis” that could empower those with “extremist panaceas [to] become a real threat to democracy.” While Cameron did not explicitly claim that groups like the John Birch Society were plotting a fascist takeover of the U.S., his speech did much to connect their” extremism” and the eventual destruction of the American way of life.
Cameron’s speech was proliferated by the Associated Press and republished in local newspapers in his home state of California and throughout the country. The speech was also reprinted via the Congressional Printing office and distributed by Birch-watchers. A copy of Cameron’s address is located in the papers of Bryan W. Stevens, a noted Birch reporter; it was in Stevens’s papers where I initially encountered the speech.
Its destination serves as proof of its intent to serve as a means of political propaganda. To be fair, the printed congressional speech was a typical political messaging tactic in the days before the internet, one that the right also engaged in. The scheme often worked one of two ways. First, a political figure would deliver an address, sometimes in conjunction with an outside, nominally independent political organization. Then, said the organization would pay to print copies of the speech (portions of the Congressional Record could not be printed at taxpayer expense). Printed copies would then be circulated through mailing lists, handed out at events, etc. Conversely, political groups would often write ideologically aligned congressional members and ask them to enter a written item into the Congressional Record and then provide the funds to print it.
Either way, the relationship added a veneer of state authority to a partisan political goal. And such is the case with Cameron’s speech, with its title “Who is Doing the Devil’s Work in American Politics?” emblazoned upon an official government document (see below).
Page one of the printed version of Rep. Cameron’s address. Note the provocative title prominently depicted beneath the authoritative congressional masthead. Source: Stevens, Bryan W. The John Birch Society in California politics, 1966: by Bryan W. Stevens. The Publius Society, c 1966. Political Extremism and
Radicalism, link.gale.com/apps/doc/RAICBF251389805/PLEX?u=viva_gmu&sid=bookmark-PLEX&xid=370d8729&pg=183. Accessed 3 Feb.
And what was the political goal? To use the John Birch Society (JBS) as a bludgeon to be used against the conservative movement writ large. By 1963, the JBS was clearly serving that function for Cold War liberals and progressives. And to be fair, the society and its leader, Robert B. Welch, did not do themselves many favors. From Welch’s insinuation that Eisenhower was a commie, to their generous use of the “communist” label, to some of their more outlandish conspiracist claims, the JBS and Welch gave their detractors plenty of rope to hang themselves with. However, despite these angles of attack, the group’s eccentricities were not enough to make them uniquely toxic.
Despite the labels applied to them, the Birchers embodied a then-declining bourgeois Americanist social order at odds with the ascending postwar managerial state. The society was considerably more antielite and often antistatist than attacks leveled upon them would otherwise suggest. They similarly embraced a view of economic relations and a conspiratorial view of history that, while in 1963 was considered “extreme,” would have seemed banal or downright ordinary 30 years prior. And thus, as during the First Brown Scare, the JBS’ ideological proximity to other, more objectively and explicitly illiberal or antisemitic organizations was used by their opponents to achieve their political ends. The group’s real and imagined proximity to odious actors like Gerald L. K. Smith became essential for the political attacks against them. Despite the admitted distance between Smith and Welch, their shared anti-elitism and the occasional rightward drift of some former Birchers was enough to rope the two groups together.
In this formulation, we see one example of a common adjacency attack meant to shrink the political coalition of one’s political opponents. In 1963, Smith and his publication had no political clout. However, the Birchers did. Therefore, Smith and co. became the ammunition used to make the JBS even more radioactive than they were on their own. Once completed, the society was then used as a weapon against other political targets further inside the Overton Window. Conservative power brokers like William F. Buckley then furthered the process along and exiled the society and, as a result, aided liberals in moving the Overton Window ever leftward (see my crude graphic below).
This graphic depicts the relationship between different ideological parties as it relates to an outside political force and their attempts to control the political discourse of their opponents. The “weapon,” in this case, the John Birch Society, stood astride the rightward edge of the Overton Window. Their opponents used their proximity, real and exaggerated, to make them a radioactive bludgeon, which could then be used to discipline “the Target,” the rest of the political right.
This three-degree tactic is, of course, not limited to the left. The right, for a time during the McCarthy era, used the same approach to varying degrees of success, and indeed even the Birchers themselves tried to do the same to their opponents. The difference, however, is that after the inglorious end to the career of Tail gunner Joe, McCarthyite became a slur; no such pejorative exists to describe the reverse. “Cameronite” isn’t a thing.
And it isn’t a thing because the Birchers and other targets of the Second Brown Scare are not traditionally treated as sympathetic characters due to their opposition to key components of the modern liberal program, chiefly Civil Rights. Despite a brief period of nuance in the 1990s and early 2000s, the historiography of these events has reverted back to a narrative largely resembling that of Cameron’s speech. The double whammy of Brexit and Trump has provided incentives to justify current moral and political panics but resuscitate those of yesteryear.
[i] According to the data analysis I have conducted for this project, Rep Cameron’s opposition rate to U.S. foreign policy during his four-year congressional career (1963-1967) was a mere 7%, a statistic of note given Cameron’s politics and political targets.
The following is a chapter that I was forced to cut from my dissertation projection, “Partisans of the Old Republic: Rightwing Opposition to U.S. Foreign Policy.”
Writing long-form pieces like a dissertation can force one to make painful editorial decisions. Due to demands on my time and brevity, I needed to conflate much of the following into an earlier chapter. Rather than leave this work to languish in the recesses of my computer, I decided to post it here on my blog.
The essay argues that American involvement in, the conduct of, and the end of the Great War led to the Republican Party developing a synthesized foreign policy worldview that drew elements from its two sectional wings, a compromised position that informed American foreign policy during the interwar period.
For those well-versed in the history of American involvement in World War I, the following may not prove revelatory. However, for the uninitiated, the following will provide a helpful primer on American entry into the war and the backlash that it created. I believe that firmly rooting the history of “isolationism” in American involvement in World War I (if not earlier) is essential to understanding Americans’ traditional reluctance to participate in overseas conflicts and commitments.
On 25 January 1928, Theodore Burton, a Republican Representative from Ohio, introduced House Joint Resolution 183, “To prohibit the exportation of arms, munitions, or implements of war to belligerent nations.” The seasoned politician was a vocal critic of U.S. foreign policy. Like most Republicans of his generation and region, Burton came to oppose American interventionism by living through the Spanish-American War, engaging in debates about American naval power, and witnessing the catastrophic Great War. He opposed the U.S. government’s occupation of the Philippines, challenged the need for a large global navy, and served as the president of the American Peace Society towards the end of his life. In response to the horrors of World War I, Burton introduced legislation to bar “the exportation of arms, munitions, or implements of war to any nation which is engaged in war with another.” Unbeknownst to Burton, who died in 1929, the resolution would be the basis for what became colloquially known as the Neutrality Act. The act, which served to constrain the president’s authority to act in international crises, served as the crescendo of American noninterventionism. The passage of Burton’s legislation, a bill that outlived its creator, was also a testament to the rising popularity and continuity of a spirit of American noninterventionism born during America’s ascent to global power.
The Neutrality Act passed Congress via voice vote in the House and the Senate by a decisive, bipartisan vote of 72-9. It was signed into law by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on 31 August 1935. Directly informed by America’s entry into the Great War, the law placed a general embargo on all munitions exports to belligerents engaged in war and warned Americans that those who traveled upon warring vessels did so at their peril. The law and its decisive passage represented the zenith of American noninterventionism. Its bipartisan and national endorsement also characterized the success of what was a previously predominately Midwestern and largely partisan Republican position on American intervention in global affairs.
This essay will argue that American entry into, prosecution, and conclusion of the Great War created an amalgamated foreign policy vision for the Republican Party that took aspects from the party’s two sections that determined American foreign policy during the interwar period. At the beginning of the war, the sectional differences within the GOP remained, with Midwesterners predominately opposing American involvement in the conflict and Old Guard members supporting entry. However, the excesses of the war on the home front forced these two sections together, as both found reason to oppose the Wilson administration’s prosecution of the war. Similarly, their shared opposition to the League of Nations over the issue of American sovereignty created an intraparty détente that killed the treaty and helped to usher in the defeat of Wilsonianism and the triumph of the Republican Party in the interwar period.
The restored Republican Party would guide American foreign policy according to impulses taken from each of its sections. Learning from the horror of the Great War, they sought to keep European politics at arm’s length. The Republican administrations of Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover guided American Pacific policy by attempting to fuse the Old Guard’s desire for market access with the Midwest’s desire for demilitarization and political disentanglement. Lastly, on Latin American issues, Republican political ascendency mirrored the paradigms of the pre-Great War era, with a policy of economic dominance interspersed with military intervention. Yet, even here, Midwestern Republicans, backed by an interwar zeitgeist of antimilitarism, eventually forced the Hoover administration to moderate long-standing American policies in Latin America. This ascendant attitude of antimilitarism and noninterventionism outlived the dominance of the Republican Party. The Great Depression amplified these critiques, a process that culminated in the signing of the Neutrality Act.
Both the Old Guard and the Midwestern progressive wing of the party responded to the war and President Woodrow Wilson’s prosecution and proposed postwar settlement in ways that would define American foreign policy of the interwar period. It informed the foreign policy views in the forthcoming ‘Old Right’ and their opposition to American entry into World War II and early Cold War policy.
Historians of American foreign policy and noninterventionism often confine their work to WWII and treat World War I, and the resistance it garnered as an abbreviated preface. These scholars also often argue that noninterventionism in the interwar period, particularly its sizeable Midwestern component, was primarily motivated by the section’s large German population and latent affinity for their homeland in the Old World.[i] Scholars and journalists, therefore, typically work their way backward, explaining the advent of noninterventionism as a near-term reaction to the horrors of the Great War.[ii] Lastly, an immediate postwar interpretation, one which has regained popularity in recent years, places xenophobia and antisemitism as central motivations for American opposition to entry into World War II.[iii] Instead, this essay will show that the Great War and its aftermath were a conduit for existing noninterventionist critiques, a mechanism that made them politically and intellectually palatable at a national scale. The overseas and domestic horror of the Great War mainstreamed existing discourse on executive authority and conspiracism, the particularity of American republicanism, antimilitarism, sovereignty, Anglophobia, and the wickedness of the Old World.
Debates about US entry into World War I solidified the trends unleashed by the late 19th century, ultimately bringing them to the national fore. As with domestic opposition to the Spanish-American war, opponents of American entry into the Great War were a heterogenous movement. Opposition to the war motivated people from all sections of the county and all corners of political life. Antiwar activism and antimilitarism found support amongst the ranks of labor and capital, suffragists and antisuffragists, “old stock” and immigrants, cosmopolitans and particularists, and people of all religions, ethnic and racial groups.[iv]
However, among the war’s dissenters, the largest coherent political bloc was that of the Republican Midwest. As with their earlier criticism of American military buildup, Midwestern opponents to the war were often motivated by their suspicions of what they deemed a self-interested Atlanticist Eastern elite class that believed British interests were more important than tending to American business at home. Earlier class and regional divides Anglophobia entrenched as the U.S. became more involved in Europe’s Great War. The nature of America’s entry into, execution, and resolution of the Great War exacerbated the Midwest’s sectional tendencies. The war brought new noninterventionists into the fold and made noninterventionism a national norm as the two halves of the Republican Party reconciled their differences to defeat the League of Nations and resumed their electoral dominance after the 1918 and 1920 elections.
Early American policy towards the Great War held that of strict neutrality. Upon the start of the war in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson’s earliest public statements were for Americans to be “neutral in fact, as well as name.”[v] Wilson was keenly aware of the divided nature of American public opinion. He came to occupy the oval office via a contentious 1912 presidential election that saw the GOP ticket split between its conservative standard bearer Taft and former President and Bull-Moose Party candidate Theodore Roosevelt and an active campaign of Socialist Party Eugene V. Debs. The split GOP ticket allowed Wilson to secure a sizeable electoral win despite winning only 40% of the popular vote. His party endured rough midterm elections in 1914, and as late as the 1916 presidential campaign, Wilson preferred to focus on domestic issues. His surrogates championed the incumbent as putting “America first” and as possessing the leadership that “kept us out of war,” [vi] and went so far as to claim a Republican victory would mean be sucked “into the embroilments of the European war.”[vii] Wilson secured his 1916 reelection victory, albeit it on carrying California by a mere 3,773 votes.
Privately, however, President Wilson’s sympathies lay with the Allies and especially the British. Throughout his early life, Wilson showed a great appreciation for England’s parliamentary system and Europe’s progressive politics[viii] and had direct familial ties to the British Isles, as his mother hailed from the town of Carlisle in Northern England.[ix] Wilson’s cabinet and inner circle were also staffed with those who held Allied sympathies. Among them was his chief (and non-appointed) advisor, Colonel William House. House similarly viewed the British with affection and privately advocated for supporting the Allied cause while the White House took an official stance of neutrality.
Segments of the Republican Party paralleled the White House’s support for the Allies. Northern members of the party, particularly those with nationalist tendencies, like former President Teddy Roosevelt, considered the war an opportunity. He viewed the conflict in Europe as an avenue for masculine renewal, a means of hardening the nation’s men, made flabby by decades of industrialization.[x] Like their views on the Spanish-American War, these Roosevelt Republicans saw the war as a means of solidifying America’s economic and social growth and a mechanism for the U.S. to take its “rightful” place in the world. The former president and those in his circle believed that American entry would further the quest for national greatness, an international form of manifest density. Whether it was on the issue of national preparedness, or entry into the war, the aging Rough Rider never missed an opportunity to skewer the sitting Democratic president. His passion for the war played well for the Northern portion of his traditional base but alienated his more progressive or populist Midwestern supporters.[xi]
Massachusetts Senator Henry Cabot Lodge mirrored many of Roosevelt’s views of the war and the prospect of American entry into it. Like Roosevelt, Lodge, the child of a prominent Boston family, believed in an assertive American foreign policy beyond the parameters of the Western hemisphere. And, like Roosevelt, he loathed Wilson’s seeming hesitancy to embrace the moment and believed in the utility and righteousness of American leadership and, at times, unilateralism.[xii] However, unlike the bold and progressive Roosevelt, Lodge was a shrewd political figure closer to the conservative wing of the GOP. Rather than seeing the war as a means to bring the GOP together, as Roosevelt vainly attempted, Lodge understood he could use the conflict to embarrass Wilson and the Democrats while finally purging his party of progressive antimilitarists and antiimperialists.[xiii]
Lodge’s views on American power overseas were, however, complicated. While he was a vocal supporter of American entry into the war, his position was animated by his long-established unilateralism and exceptionalism. Unlike Anglophiles in the liberal and progressive camps, Lodge’s views of Europe were closer to that of his populist, Midwestern colleagues. For him and other Republican unilateralists, America should fight in Europe not to join it but to redeem it.[xiv] Lodge’s public positions and voting records on executive power, if only because of partisan acrimony and personal disdain for President Wilson, also put him slightly within the noninterventionist camp. Similarly, as we will see, his crucial role in the postwar settlement provided noninterventionism the means to prevail after the war.[xv]
One of Lodge’s Midwestern opponents within his party was Wisconsin Senator Robert “Fighting Bob” La Follette. La Follette was the patriarch of a progressive political family that blended a populist view of American domestic politics with that of noninterventionism. A persistent irritant to the Republican Party’s Old Guard, La Follette supported enacting child labor laws, using federal power to break up trusts, and progressive taxation. Midwestern sectional politics informed his views on domestic issues, which saw the Northeast as pursuing a foreign policy for its benefit. La Follette believed that American entry into the war, either as a pseudo-belligerent or official member of the Allies, would profit American capital and industry at the expense of the median American. La Follette was joined in his dissent in Congress by a cadre of fellow Midwestern Republicans, like Nebraskan George Norris, and a smattering of Southern Democrats, such as House majority leader Claude Kitchin.[xvi]
The battle between Lodge and LaFollette paralleled similar rifts within America’s larger progressive movement. Like the Republican Party, arguments over the war split progressives. The divergence endured in the progressive movement foreshadowed the divides of the following world war and helped set the stage for political realignment that birthed the Old Right. American progressives approached the war over debates about whether it would serve national interests at the expense of public interests.[xvii]
Central to this progressive divide over the war was a debate about whether it would serve as positive means of furthering the growth of a managed economy or as a negative force for the curtailment of civil liberties and social justice. Progressive supporters of the war viewed it as a means to implement a permanently managed economy, a welcomed alternative to the turmoil of industrialized, free-market economics. In the progressive antiwar camp, were who believed that war would be detrimental to the cause of social justice and would empower capital and the centralized state at the expense of the individual. Such figures included reformer, social activist Jane Addams, and New Republic writer Randolph Bourne. Progressive and other left-wing war opponents also had significant portions of America’s unions in their camp, such as the rank and file of the American Federal of Labor (AFL) and especially the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).
In the pro-intervention camp were key progressive figures like Professor John Dewey, who asserted that the war could make the world safe from German militarism and shepherd the American political economy towards a fairer, less individualistic, managed state.[xviii] Another such progressive war supporter was journalist Walter Lippmann. Lippman was one of the founding editors of the New Republic, a progressive magazine that declared itself dedicated to “a liberalism centered in humanitarian and moral passion, and one based in an ethos of scientific analysis.”[xix] Lippmann, like Dewey, saw the war and America’s entry into it as an opportunity to remake the global order and awaken Americans from what he viewed as its apathy towards international relations. He often framed and wrote about the war in nearly messianic terms as a part of a global struggle. Writing in the New Republic in 1917, he opined that out “of this horror,” the Allies could create “nothing less than a Federation of the World.”[xx]
Another prominent prowar progressive who would go on to impact the ascent of the Old Right was historian Charles Beard. By 1914, Beard was a long-established academic historian with popular appeal. A Midwesterner by birth, Beard defied regional trends through his academic training at Oxford, becoming an anglophile. At the start of the Great War, Beard was among the progressives who supported US entry into the conflict.[xxi] Mirroring the sentiments of his educational class and anglophilia, Beard advocated for American support to the Allies and American entry into the war. Beard believed confronting the Central Powers could quash a pernicious “Prussian militarism” and lead to a more democratic Europe.[xxii]
The mechanics of American entry into the war drew on much of America’s prewar populism, anglophobia, and sectional politics. Opponents of American entry pointed to the extension of American private capital to Allied debtors, the selling of American arms and supplies to the Allies, and the physical transport of said materials across the Atlantic. All three issues opened debates about the limits of American neutrality. While the federal government officially took no side, private firms sold arms, munitions, food, and raw materials to all parties in the conflict. However, a British blockade of German imports and a general affinity for Great Britain and France tilted American support for the Triple Entente.[xxiii] Woodrow Wilson’s Secretary of State, William Jennings Bryan, attempted to keep America out of the war and truly neutral. The prairie populist was able, for a time, to persuade private banks to abstain from lending money to belligerent nations.[xxiv] Nevertheless, by the summer of 1915, Secretary Bryan felt that American economic and sympathetic ties were drawing the country close to the Allied orbit and into the war. The old hand of the Democratic Party resigned in protest.
By the time of Bryan’s resignation, the United States was a de facto member of the Entente powers, supplying them with munitions and critical lifelines of capital. Despite both warring parties engaging in different forms of naval blockade, the British on the surface, and the Germans below, Washington backed down on protesting the former. Regardless of the alleged illegality of the British blockading neutral shipping, the superiority of the British fleet, and the latent Anglophilia within Wilson’s administration, meant few American claims on its neutrality rights visa vie the British. In a common journalistic quip of the time, “Britain rules the waves and waives the rules.”[xxv]
From the summer of 1915 until 1917, the United States government took incremental steps towards active entry into the war. The mechanisms for this incrementalism were issuing credit and shipments of military supplies to Europe. U.S. banks, like those of American financial magnate and anglophile J.P. Morgan. Morgan’s banking house provided a vital credit lifeline to Great Britain, who hung by a fiscal thread, and France, who by 1916 was effectively broke.[xxvi] Similarly, American industry came to rescue the Entente long before official American entry into the war. U.S. armament manufacturers produced the arms, ammunition, and supplies that kept the Allied armies equipped and combat-ready. By 1916, American industry supplied the Allies with 40% of their war material.[xxvii] The United States, while officially neutral, was an unofficial backer of the Allied side and benefited significantly in the process. In the wake of the Great War, these capital transfers and armaments would fuel the critiques of the noninterventionists.
American supply of arms and munitions and the passage of American citizens on belligerent vessels came into conflict with the German Empire’s use of unrestricted submarine warfare. It was the official policy of the Wilson administration that Americans had a right to travel on belligerent ships free from wartime violence.[xxviii] Such a right was fought in Congress by both Midwestern Republicans and a handful of dissenting Southern Democrats. In the House, Republican minority leader James R. Mann snapped that the U.S. was being maneuvered into war by Americans who went for a “joy ride.”[xxix] Robert La Follette fought to introduce legislation in the Senate to ban Americans traveling in war zones on belligerent ships. Such legislation failed on the Hill as the White House’s influence on the Democratic majority was enough to shelve these efforts.[xxx] A similar issue arose with the issue of arming merchant vessels. Once again, Robert La Follette led the effort to prevent the escalation of American involvement by filibustering legislation allowing merchant vessels to transverse the Atlantic while armed. To quote President Wilson, La Follette and his “little group of willful men” held up armed merchant vessel legislation until the President made the issue moot by circumventing Congress via executive order.[xxxi] The President’s willingness to evade Congress with the power of the pen fueled antiwar dissents that saw it as proof of Wilson’s descent into dictatorship.
The issue of German U-boat action was defused for a time after the outage of the sinking of the Lusitania. After recognizing its naval shortcomings, German leadership renounced its use of unrestricted submarine warfare in May 1915.[xxxii]However, as Europe’s battlefield stalemate slogged on, coupled with the worsening effects of the British blockade, in January 1917, German leadership reversed itself and announced that it resumed its U-Boat campaign. German officials reasoned that since American the government was, in effect, a pseudo-belligerent, risking their active involvement in the war was an acceptable tradeoff for the chance of disrupting the arms and munitions flow to the Allies.[xxxiii] The German resumption of their naval campaigns, coupled with the interception of the Zimmermann Telegram, boosted public support for the Allies and provided the casus belli for American entry into the conflict. [xxxiv]
Even as official American entry laid a mere vote away, a sizeable number of holdouts remained within Congress. In his dissent, Senator La Follette remained unmoved in his positions and attacked the high-minded rhetoric of President Wilson. “Fighting Bob” assaulted the hypocrisy of the Allied powers, especially Great Britain. He called the British blockade an inhumane tool that starved the old, the young, and the sick. La Follette argued that to enter the war was to “endorse the violations of international law by Great Britain” and its “shameful methods of warfare.”[xxxv] Again, La Follette assailed Wilson’s democratic rhetoric by claiming that the Allies were no paragons of democracy. He again aimed at Great Britain and contended that to enter the war would mean allying with a government headed by “a hereditary monarchy, with a hereditary ruler, [and] with a hereditary House of Lords.”[xxxvi] He further dismissed the notion that the United States had conducted itself as a true neutral power, having only sought to enforce its neutral rights against Germany and accepting the implementation of Great Britain’s blockade.
La Follette also argued against entering the war on domestic grounds. He asserted that it would cost the ordinary person the benefit of the elite. He foresaw the war imposing financial hardship upon the median American in higher taxes and prices. Such fiscal hardship would support the elite’s bottom line, as the median American’s tax dollars that would “pay the interest on the nontaxable bonds held by Morgan and his combinations.”[xxxvii] Representative Ernest Lundeen (R-MN) echoed such sentiments in the House. In a foreshadowing of the national mood to come, he blamed the banking and arms industries for creating and profiting from the war. He provocatively declared that “munition makers desire to make more munitions, to deliver them and receive their money in return at high war prices” and added that “[o]ur financiers desire that Uncle Sam underwrite these and other huge loans and fight to defend their financial interests.”[xxxviii]
Other dissenters argued that entering the war would upset the nation’s governing status quo. Rep. Harry Hull (R-IA) registered his dissent as stemming from localist politics that centered the needs of the median American over the lofty goals appended the war. He asserted that he felt his opposition was in keeping with the opinion of the average American resident of his district. Like Lundeen, Hull noted the common person would bear the brunt of the war and lamented at the prospect of sacrificing “the flower of American manhood to swell the fleshpots of the few.” Additionally, he rejected the high-minded internationalism or knee-jerk militaristic rationales for going to war. Instead, Hull asserted that “the test of loyalty is not the answer to the bugle call, but is rather in the exercise of that calm, impassive judgment that will bring health, happiness, and honor to your home, your community, your State, and your country.”[xxxix]
Fear that the war would permanently disfigure the country ran throughout dissenting bodies in Congress. William Mason, the veteran Republican antiimperialist from Ohio, now in the House of Representatives, again opposed the prospect of Americans fighting a foreign war. As he had 18 years prior, Mason asserted that entry into the war would deface the republic. “The danger of entering into war […] means an entrance on our part into European war and European politics, the dangers of which were foreshadowed by Washington and are familiar to every student of the history of the United States.”[xl] The fear of a disfigured republic was a bipartisan one. In his objection to the declaration, Democratic Senator from Missouri William J. Stone stated, “I won’t vote for this war because if we go into it, we will never again have the same old Republic.”[xli]
Despite these pleas against the declaration, the declaration passed more comfortably than the passions involved would have indicated. A noticeable pocket of Democratic opposition to the war, particularly in the South and West, shrank as Wilson was able to keep most of the party in line.[xlii] The pressure to vote for the war fell some antiwar Republicans from the party’s progressive wing. Even Senator Borah, once elected on an anti-imperialism platform, relented. Commenting on his support, Borah asserted that the vote did not signify an act of aggression but rather “a war for the defense of American rights and the American people.”[xliii] despite these pressures, six Senators voted against the declaration of war against the German Empire in 1917, three Republicans (all Midwesterners) and three Democrats. In the House, 32 Republicans and 16 Democrats opposed the measure. All 32 Republicans represented districts in the Midwest, Rockies, or the west coast. None of the nay votes in Congress from either major party originated from the country’s Northern states.[xliv]
With American entry into the conflict secured, debate in Congress centered on the means of waging the American war effort, and a heated debate around conscription began in earnest. Although the federal government successfully implemented its first mass draft during World War I, it found resistance across the political spectrum from both major parties and throughout the Midwest, West, and South. Even the Democratic House Majority Leader, Claude Kitchin of North Carolina, defied the president. Opposition to the draft was so strident that even for congressmen who supported entry into the war, conscription was too similar to the compulsory service regimes of the Old World, particularly that of the German empire.[xlv] One dissenter on the measure was Democratic Congressman Charles H. Brand of Georgia. Rep. Brand, who had voted for the war resolution, opposed conscription on moral and ideological grounds. He asserted his belief that implementing nationalized conscription would lead to establishing a large, standing army, long the bane of America’s idealized Jeffersonian tradition. “We should be careful lest in attempting to destroy militarism and autocracy abroad we will do those things which will have a tendency to destroy democracy at home,” he remarked in his dissent.[xlvi]
Brand also believed that establishing a large standing army would erase each state’s particularity and facilitate the creation of mass society, the same sort of society that had fueled the Old World’s descent into total war. Undergirding Brand’s commentary was another reason for opposing the draft, which particularly animated the Solid South, the fear of black violence subsidized by the federal government. One Democratic politician who was not shy of making his opposition explicit was Mississippi Senator James K. Vardman, who groused that conscription would enable “arrogant strutting representatives of the black soldiery in every community.”[xlvii] Southern resistance to the sinews of American imperial power in 1917, as with their opposition to the occupation of the Philippines, was often animated by a desire to maintain white republican rule. The prospect of black soldiers, like Filipino labor, threatened to undermine the established racial order.
Race and republicanism overlapped with fears that the draft would create a permanent martial caste, similar to that of the fear of German Junkers, the alleged seedbed for German militarism. Congressional opponents to the draft believed that, if enacted, it would fundamentally transform American society and turn it into an imitation of what it was mobilizing to fight, a martial society. Brand remarked that the conscription bill, as proposed, exempted government officers. According to Brand, these officials would enjoy the fruits of “life, liberty, and freedom” while deciding “who shall go to war and who shall remain at home.”[xlviii]
Brand’s fellow opponents shared echoed sentiments. One such dissenter was Rep. Ernest Lundeen (R-MN), who opposed conscription as fervently as he did American entry into the war. Like Brand, Lundeen asserted that the draft was undemocratic, as it left Congress untouched. According to Lundeen, this disparity in sacrifice undermined the lofty ideals for which the U.S. was to enter the war and undermined the difference between America and its Old-World adversaries. A veteran of the Spanish-American War, Lundeen mockingly declared that “I volunteer here and now to lead an untrained but war-like and war-voting company of volunteer Congressmen into the trenches of Europe” and added, when “you vote for war, send your name to Uncle Sam as a volunteer.”[xlix] While the conscription passed into law, every section of the country registered some level of dissent in the House of Representatives, with the highest levels of opposition stemming from the Midwestern and Western states.[l]
Public opposition to the draft paralleled those in Congress, and the federal government had a plan to curtail it, the Sedition Act.[li] Passed shortly after conscription, the Sedition Act amended the earlier Espionage Act. Despite not containing the direct free speech abridgments Wilson desired, the Sedition Act effectively illegalized dissent directed at the federal government and its prosecution of the war. Provisions of the act made it a felony to incite disloyalty within the U.S. military, use written or verbal language which was disloyal to the U.S. government, advocate strikes related to war industries, or “by word or act enemy support or favor the cause of any country with which, the United States is at war or by word or act oppose the cause of the United States.”[lii] The act afforded federal and state authorities, often supported by vigilante groups, the means to quash antiwar dissenters long before American troops entered the fray on the Western Front.[liii]
The federal government used the act as a pretext for cracking down on left-leaning unions, particularly the International Workers of the World (IWW). The use of federal authority, often coupled with vigilantism, was used to discipline the antiwar wing of the labor movement, which resulted in numerous cases of street violence[liv] and, in the case of union leader Frank Little, murder by lynching.[lv] While the Wilson administration attempted and failed to prove that the I.W.W. was in the pocket of the German empire, the broad proscripts of the Sedition Act provided the means to suppress the organization. And, on 28 September 1918, 166 members of the union were federally indicted to, in the words of one prosecutor, “put the I.W.W. out of business.”[lvi] The Sedition Act provided the federal government the means of waging the final battle of the American labor wars as it geared up to wage war in Europe.
The Sedition Act was enforced by a culture of war fever, largely stewed by the federal government. Upon entering the Great War, the Wilson administration desired to shape public opinion on war by proliferating its official line on the war, that it was an endeavor in self-defense brought on by the “sinister power” of German militarism.[lvii] Wilson created the Committee for Public Information (CPI) via executive order to achieve this end and appointed his progressive political ally and former investigative journalist George Creel as its head. Creel’s organization proliferated pro-Allied and xenophobic anti-German messaging through its press releases, the covert subsidizing of newspapers, public speakers, and even church sermons. The CPI presented a picture of the war which demonized “the Hun” abroad and war resisters at home. The CPI also pressured American media to censor their content and coordinated with other government agencies, including the Postal Service, to restrict dissident content.[lviii] In addition to boosting the U.S. government’s position on the war, the CPI inflated the domestic threat of German agents, framed calls for a negotiated peace as “spy talk,” and coerced newspaper editors who considered running articles critical of the war.[lix]
Unbeknownst to the American public, Creel’s efforts with the CPI were paralleled by a similar campaign waged by the British government. Even before the United States formally entered the war, British intelligence worked to move American public opinion towards the Triple Entente. British agents amplified accusations of German war crimes in Belgium to elicit American sympathies for the Allies.[lx] Not content to merely draw Americans towards Great Britain, their agents, through contacts with local police and journalists, sought to drive a wedge between the United States and Germany. Before American entry into the conflict, British agents amplified the presence of German agents and sympathizers within the United States while minimizing the visibility of their own intelligence activities.[lxi]
The Sedition Act and British and American propaganda cultivated a wartime culture of anti-German sentiment and other xenophobic campaigns tied up with the war effort. As with labor, the federal government used its power to prosecute religiously motivated pacifists, many of whom belonged to historical German protestant denominations. Dozens of members of Anabaptist subsects, such as Mennonites and Hutterites, were charged under the auspices of the Espionage Act for refusing to register for the draft or making statements critical of the American war effort.[lxii]
The Sedition Act similarly incentivized intolerant and illiberal attitudes directed at the wider German-American community. Once held up as the prototypical “model minority,” German immigrants and German Americans quickly became viewed as an enemy within.[lxiii] Taking their cues from Washington and Woodrow Wilson’s rhetoric promoting “100% Americanism,” local governments passed various bans on speaking German in public, teaching German in school, and other measures to limit displays of German culture in American society.[lxiv] Private businesses went so far as to engage in the pedantic practice of renaming German cuisine. American towns changed German-sounding street names and, in several cases, entire placenames. And individual German Americans, once proud of their collective contributions to American society, hid their heritages and often changed their surnames.[lxv] Beyond petty assault and intimidation, mob violence on several occasional resulted in the lynching of several German immigrants.[lxvi] America’s orgy of xenophobia and violence during the Great War would inform American noninterventionism upon the end of the war and serve as a living example of what mass war can unleash on the home front.[lxvii]
Due to the downstream effects of the Sedition Act and other government rhetoric on the war, political violence became a norm during America’s involvement in the conflict. Even in the Midwest, a bastion of noninterventionism, prowar vigilantes, taking their informal ques from the White House, intimidated antiwar political figures. One such Midwestern Republican was former Minnesota Representative and Swedish immigrant Charles Lindbergh Sr. The elder Lindbergh, the father to the future famous-turned-infamous aviator and noninterventionist, was an outspoken opponent of American entry into the Great War. Like others of his section, Lindbergh Sr., a progressive Republican and agrarian radical opposed American entry into the war on populist grounds. In his 1917 book, Why Is Your Country at War, he asserted that the “special interests” of Wall Street, the money trust, were the financial interests responsible for inching Americans into war.[lxviii]
Lindbergh Sr.’s rationale and rhetoric mirrored those of his section and presaged that of his more notable and infamous son. “It is impossible according to the big press to be a true American unless you are pro-British” he asserted in his antiwar tome, and added, “[i]f you are really for America first, last, and all the time and solely for American and for the masses primarily, then you are classed as pro-German by the big press which are supported by the speculators.”[lxix] And, like his son, the elder’s noninterventionism was often met with hostility. Their Minnesota home was vandalized, and while on the 1918 Minnesota gubernatorial campaign trail, Lindbergh Sr. was often met by aggressive crowds. At one rally, he was hung in effigy, at another, he was pelted with eggs, and after one speaking engagement, he sped out of town, tailed gunfire, a young Charles A. Lindberg Jr. at the wheel.[lxx]
Violence at home paralleled political dissent from the changes in the American economy brought about by the active entry into the war. These economic grievances coincided with other sources of dissatisfaction that pushed the GOP further into a role as the de facto opposition party on the issue of foreign affairs and then further along the path as the nation’s conservative party. President Wilson’s industrial policy elicited howls from both wings of the GOP. Wilson’s strategies for war mobilization struck a middle path, relying on his strain of progressive ideology that sought to marshal private resources through technocratic planning.[lxxi] Despite the feelings of some of his detractors, Wilson had little appetite for the nationalization of productive industry or for their forced break up. Similarly, due to strident opposition to raising taxes, Wilson sought to buffer America from the costs of the war by relying on inflationary monetary policy rather than direct taxation.[lxxii]
Wilson’s technocratic middle way pleased none of his detractors and resulted in forcing the two wings of the Republican Party closer together. Midwestern progressives like Senator Robert La Follette desired to avoid inflation and instead sought a graduated tax system to finance the war.[lxxiii] Though the war, for a time, created a boom in agricultural production, the collapse of the demand bubble led to an economic crisis in the heartland that preceded the Great Depression. Economic hard times deepened the existing populist disdain for the North, as Midwestern populists came to blame their financial problems on Eastern banks that artificially drove up demand and ended in a crash.[lxxiv] Upon the war’s conclusion, Midwestern Republicans increasingly viewed the conflict as a means of wealth transfer from the heartland to the coasts, thereby deepening their sectional resentment and noninterventionism.
The effects of inflation dovetailed with the advent of the Farm Bureau. Buttressed by the Smith-Lever Act of 1914, Farm Bureaus were conservative-leaning, business-orientated organizations that sought to aid agricultural concerns through market means. The bureaus eschewed the earlier era of agrarian radicalism and instead sought to compete with outside capital at their own game, market access, and lobbying of government.[lxxv] The advent of the bureaus as a political force for rural Republicans, coupled with the burdens of the war, started the process of the rural Midwest’s political transformation. On the eve of the next world war, the Midwest would become the GOP’s rightwing base, one that adapted its earlier populist worldview on foreign policy to its new conservative politics.
Wilson’s changes in the wartime political economy also angered the GOP’s northern conservatives. The Republican Old Guard, already predisposed to loathe President Wilson and progressivism, similarly opposed the president’s wartime economic policies regardless of its stripe. The growth in the size of technocratic government elicited a partisan backlash from Old Guard Republicans wary of permanent changes to the American economy. Of particular ire for Congressional Republicans was the Department Reorganization Act of 1918, colloquially known as the Overman Act. The act allowed the president to reorganize executive agencies without consulting Congress. In a prelude to future fights between Republicans in Congress and a Democrat in the White House, the former made liberal use of the “dictator” accusation and cast the struggle over wartime policy as one over executive authority of the nature of republican government.[lxxvi]
While congressional Republicans failed to stop the bill, its passage, growing discontent in the grain belt, and excesses on the home front, coupled with normal midterm election dynamics, led to sizable GOP gains in the 1918 congressional elections. While the dynamics of GOP’s intraparty politics did not create a unified political message on the war, such disorganization played to the party’s advantage as Northern Republicans campaigned on Wilson’s alleged weakness overseas and populist Midwestern Republicans assailed his heavy hand on the home front. Republicans with a national platform like Roosevelt and Lodge attacked the President as weak on the war and liable to cave on postwar planning.[lxxvii] Wilson and his surrogates responded with accusations of Republican disloyalty. During a campaign speech in Wisconsin, Vice President Thomas R. Marshall vindictively mirrored the “hyphened American rhetoric” of his boss. He declared Wisconsinites were “half for America, half for the kaiser, and all against Wilson.” He charged the Wisconsin Republican Party of disloyalty and compared the candidates on the state ballot to “sewage.”[lxxviii]
The success of Allied and American forces in Europe did not translate to Democratic electoral victory as Wisconsinites responded by electing the full suite of Republican candidates in November 1918. Wisconsin’s results were part of a Republican victory that secured control of the Senate, albeit by a slim two-seat margin. The GOP also garnered a 24-seat margin in the House. While in historical terms, the 1918 results were typical for a midterm election, they looked like a thrashing when compared to Wilson’s campaign rhetoric and broke his tenuous South-West coalition.[lxxix] The slim victory did not stop Senator Lodge from declaring a rout and placing a moral sheen on the results, claiming that it constituted “a country-wide revolt against dictatorship.”[lxxx] With both chambers secured and the senior body now under the control of Senate Leader Henry Cabot Lodge, the GOP was poised to influence the outcome of the war and postwar policy.[lxxxi]
While Lodge’s electoral success would contribute to his goal of frustrating the White House, it would not suppress the more fervent voices of noninterventionism within his party. Instead, the 1918 elections solidified the place of Midwestern noninterventionism within national politics. Democratic losses were the steepest in the Midwest as farmers groaned under the burden of price controls.[lxxxii] And Wisconsin and Nebraska voters were partly motivated in response to anti-German American animus brought about by the war.[lxxxiii] The GOP gained four Senate seats in the Midwest, flipped one in Colorado, and held their existing seats in all sections west of the Mississippi River. Additionally, 34 Republican House Representatives from the Midwest began their political careers with the 1918 midterms. Key members would survive politically well into the interwar period, solidifying noninterventionist foreign policy thinking within the GOP and the country. More immediately, however, the 1918 election results assured the death of Wilson’s dream, American participation in the League of Nations.
President Woodrow Wilson’s trip to Europe and attendance at the Paris peace conference were supposed to herald a new era of foreign relations that would permanently arouse America from its alleged absence on the global stage. The President’s vision for the postwar world was built on his ambitious 14 points, a program that outlined lasting peace in Europe and a template for a liberal global order. Among them was what became known as the League of Nations, an association of sovereign states designed to maintain territorial integrity and prevent the outbreak of another world war. However, Wilson’s diplomatic successes did not match his ambitions. Wilson’s points managed to be, at times, vague and contradictory. For instance, the President championed a universalized right to self-determination but failed to articulate how that would comport with point tFhree, which called for liberal free trade, or the creation of an independent Polish state with access to the sea, a goal only achievable by incorporating ethnic Germans into the new political territory.[lxxxiv]
Wilson’s postwar plans also ran into a maelstrom of self-interest among the war’s victorious power. His call for free trade on open seas contradicted Britain’s dependence upon naval supremacy to prop up its empire. Similarly, Wilson’s invocation of “peace without victory,” a formulation for the postwar world, rang hollow for victors of the Entente. Great Britain sacrificed over 800,000 souls, with 1.6 million wounded during the war. France lost over 1.1 million soldiers and 40,000 civilian casualties, with over 4 million wounded. Italy, a junior partner and late arrival to the Entente, lost over 480,000 troops and nearly 950,000 wounded. Europe had just herded a generation of its young into the abattoir; peace without victory was inconceivable and politically impossible. Despite America’s years of financial and material support and its own sacrifice in the blood, Wilson was in no position cajole the Allies into accepting his idealistic vision.[lxxxv]
What emerged from Versailles was an amalgamation of Wilsonian idealism and European realism that differed significantly from the promises of “peace without victory.” The League of Nations treaty contained several compromises with Wilson’s proposed vision and provisions that elicited strident opposition within Congress and in pockets of the American public. The treaty imposed crippling reparations penalties upon Germany, and under pressure from French prime minister George Clemenceau, the treaty contained colloquially known as the “war guilt clause” (Article 231). The clause declared that Germany was solely responsible for starting the war, thereby whitewashing the war’s complex origins of imperial competition and secret alliances.[lxxxvi] The treaty also awarded France territories seized by Prussia during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1 and Germany’s coal-rich Saar region, a section of Germany to which the French had no historical claim.
The treaty also made several compromises with Wilsonian idealism on the issue of colonized people. The treaty left untouched the victorious powers’ colonial holdings and did not mention Ireland’s colonial status. Both aspects of the treaty stuck critics as blatant hypocrisies and, in the case of Ireland, created significant opposition within America’s Irish American population, a key Democratic constituency.[lxxxvii] Lastly, on the issue of colonialism, the treaty seized all of German’s overseas possessions as well as a portion of the Ottoman Empire and awarded them to the Allies under the auspices of colonial “mandates.” For long-established American opponents of the war, their ranks of the newly disillusioned, the scheme bore little difference from the victor’s dividing the spoils for further world dominance, rather than “peace without victory,” Wilson ensured a victory without peace.
The outcome of the war and the peace process led many prominent Republicans who had been erstwhile supporters of American intervention to become leading proponents of American retrenchment in foreign affairs. The most strident of these opponents, particularly populist Republicans from the Midwest, was led by “the Great Opposer,” Republican Senator from Idaho William Borah. While Borah reluctantly voted for American entry into the war, its conclusion and the naked ambitions of the imperial power made him snap back into his previous noninterventionist position with the zeal of a born-again adherent. He and his fellow “Irreconcilables” tapped into a wellspring of populist angst with the war, sentiments amplified by its outcome and strongest held in the Midwest.[lxxxviii] For these opponents, the putative actions against Germany, the land seizures in Europe, and the spoils of transferred colonies made a mockery of Wilson’s declaration that Americans fought for the advancement of democracy.
The Irreconcilables also believed that joining the League would fundamentally corrupt the character of the American Republic. For Borah and his supporters like Senator Poindexter (R-WA), and James Reed (D-MO), the League was a tool of European colonialism. And, since Article 10 made no clear distinction about what constituted a member’s territory, for them, the provision was a European ploy to use American citizens to control their colonial subjects. To the Irreconcilables, this arrangement threatened to transfigure the U.S. into an Old-World imperialist state. During a Senate speech on his opposition to American involvement in the League, Borah asserted that the “virtues of a real republic you can not commingle with the discordant and destructive forces of the Old World and still preserve them.” He added, [y]ou can not yoke a government whose fundamental maxim is that of liberty to a government whose first law is that of force.”[lxxxix] To maintain America’s exceptionalist republican character, Borah and his colleagues vowed to stop the treaty in any form.
While the “Irreconcilables” were often motivated by moral concerns and reinvigorated disdain for Europe, they shared an objection to Article 10 with the party’s Old Guard, a commonality that created the party unity necessary to prevent the ratification of the treaty. For the Irreconcilables of the progressive wing and the “Reservationists” within the Old Guard, the threat to American sovereignty posed by Article 10 provided the overlap needed to prevent ratification.[xc] Lodge, like the Irreconcilables, viewed Article 10 as an impetus to entangle Americans into European conflicts. On the Article, he held that Americans “would not have our country’s vigor exhausted or her moral force abated, by everlasting meddling and muddling in in every quarrel, great and small, which effects the world.”[xci] However, for Lodge and other unilateralists within the Old Guard, their objections to the article stemmed from a foundational desire to maintain American freedom of maneuver in foreign affairs. Lodge, like Roosevelt, was a navalist who viewed American global power as a logical extension of America’s westward expansion.[xcii] For these unilateralists, involvement in the league, as initially proposed, would hamper their ambitions for American global prominence.
Despite these issues, Senator Lodge offered the White House a set of compromises known as the “Lodge Reservations.” Lodge’s list of 14 compromises would have guarded against the sovereignty concerns associated with Article 10. Chief among them would have subjected America’s commitment to collective defense to Congressional approval.[xciii] The president refused to entertain Lodge’s counterproposal and urged Democratic Senators to reject them. The standoff between the Democratic executive and Republican legislative majority dragged on throughout 1919 and caused Lodge and Wilson’s already strident and mutual animosity to fester.[xciv] The League Treaty was defeated in Senate, having failed to achieve the 2/3rd majority needed for ratification.
Undeterred by its defeat in the Senate, Wilson subsequently took to his message to the public in a series of addresses he hoped to create pressure for the treaty’s ratification. He was often shadowed by a self-described Republican “truth-squad” comprised of Senators Borah, Hiram Johnson of California, and Illinois conservative and member of the influential McCormick publishing family, Medill McCormick.[xcv] The pressure of the public relations campaign ultimately cost President Woodrow Wilson’s health, having suffered from a debilitating stroke in October 1919. The president’s poor health and the impasse between him and Lodge condemned the League of Nations treaty to defeat.
The collapse of the League coincided with other sources of popular discontent. Among them were revelations about the scale and influence of British and American propaganda operations throughout the war. Upon the war’s end, the American public learned about these campaigns through a series of self-congratulatory memoirs and postwar investigations. For those already predisposed against American noninvolvement, these revelations amplified their Anglophobia and suspicion of American Atlanticists. These revelations even disturbed former interventionists, combined with the league’s collapse, and created a mood of disenchantment with foreign affairs.[xcvi]
In 1918, Gilbert Parker, a Canadian born, British propagandist, asserted in an essay for Harper’s “the scope of my department was very extensive and its activities widely ranged” and supplied three hundred and sixty newspapers to the smaller States […] we utilized the friendly services and assistance of confidential friends [and] with influential and eminent people of every profession in the United States.”[xcvii] Not to be outdone, in George Creel’s own How We Advertised America, published in 1920, he boasted that the CPI’s efforts “reached deep into every American community” and “was no part of the great war machinery that we did not touch, no medium of appeal that we did not employ.”[xcviii] Creel viewed his charge as necessary, for in his view, “[w]ith the existence of democracy itself at stake, there was no time to think about the details of democracy.”[xcix]
The public and journalistic response to these revelations was one of transpartisan outrage. Media outlets across the political spectrum recoiled at the idea that the American and British governments had sustained efforts to guide public opinion and control dissent. The Nation, an erstwhile progressive supporter of American involvement in the war, came to view the conflict as providing the government with previously “undreamed of ways of fortifying their control over the masses of the people.” The Freeman, a classically liberal magazine, called these efforts “a poison gas attack.”[c] Similar commentary on the propaganda threat emanated from the Christian socialist The World Tomorrow and the liberal The New Republic. From his conservative perch at Saturday Evening Post, Garet Garrett called the propaganda threat “so new and so bewildering that not only has no solution for it been imagined but it has not been adequately defined.”[ci] The fallout from these revelations created a nationwide concern for the effects of propaganda and fed the belief that the British government dupped Americans into entering the war and were subsequently propagandized by their government into supporting it.
Over 100,00 Americans died in the Great War, and over 200,000 were wounded. While minor compared to the bloodletting endured by the European powers, the sacrifice of American lives for European spoils, combined with the inability of the war to meet a Wilsonian conclusion, led many Americans to ask why they entered the war in the first place. And, for many Europeans, the Great War did not end, with numerous internal conflicts and border skirmishes erupting in earnest.[cii] This spectacle of unabated bloodshed only compounded widespread American disillusionment with European politics. As editors from the Los Angeles Times lamented, “[i]t is quite impossible to tell what the war made the world safe for.”[ciii] This anguish with the war “over there” paralleled anger with the war’s conduct on the home front. Labor strife, ethnic violence and intimidation, religious persecution, civil rights abuses, conscription, mass propaganda, price controls, economic disruptions, inflation, and a dangerous increase in executive authority, led most Americans to conclude that it was time again to keep the benighted Old World at arm’s length and ensure a “return to normalcy.”
The 1920 election served as a de facto referendum on the Wilson presidency, the war, and its domestic implications and would solidify a retrenchment of American power from European affairs. In the interests of playing it safe and keeping its own shaky house in order, the GOP avoided grand or pointed ideological appeals and took a milquetoast stance on entry into the League in its 1920 platform.[civ] Despite the Republicans’ conservative electoral strategy, the Democratic Party added to their unpopularity and sought to make the campaign partly about salvaging the league and American involvement in the war. The Democratic presidential candidate, former Ohio governor, and Congressman James M. Cox, like his predecessor, questioned the loyalty of the opposition party and its voters. On the campaign trail, Cox frequently spoke of “the enemies of America during the war,” the “pro-German party,” and on the eve of the election declared, “[e]very traitor in America will vote tomorrow for Warren G. Harding.”[cv] The following day, a wave of “traitors” turned out for Harding and the Republican ticket.
Republican nominee and former Ohio Senator Warren G. Harding won the presidency in the largest popular vote landslide in a century. His victory was also the most significant two-way electoral college victory since President Ulysses S. Grant’s 1872 reelection.[cvi] Harding garnered over 60% of the popular vote and 404 electoral votes to Cox’s 127, who failed to carry a state outside the South. The Republican Party faired equally well on the Hill. In the Senate, the Republican Party gained ten seats, with the Democrats unable to win a contest outside the South. The party gained 63 seats in the House to complete the most commanding Republican control of the federal government since Reconstruction. In the words of one California Republican, if the election were a boxing match, “the police would interfere on the grounds of brutality.”[cvii] The League of Nations treaty and the excesses of the war’s prosecution on the home front obliterated Wilson’s tenuous South-West alliance, alienated usually reliable urban voters of Italian, German, or Irish stock, and allowed the GOP’s sidestep its sectional issues. An exuberant Senator Henry Cabot Lodge declared, “[w]e have torn up Wilsonianism by its roots.”[cviii]
The defeat of Wilsonianism and the detente between Republican factions fostered an American foreign policy that amalgamated the world views of the Old Guard and Midwestern progressives. Rather than burying his Midwestern, intraparty opponents, Lodge ended up accommodating their suspicions of overt military power, involvement with European politics, and overseas entanglements.[cix] While by no means “isolated” from international affairs, the American federal government implemented a foreign policy best described as neutrality.[cx] The coalition of Old Guard unilateralists with more stridently noninterventionist Midwestern Republicans created a foreign policy worldview that prioritized independence in political action and was comprised of different regional strategies.
On European affairs, the period of postwar Republican dominance sought strict nonalignment with the Old World and, by extension, their colonies. Upon taking office in 1921, with the momentum of a pivotal election and supported by both chambers of Congress, President Warren G. Harding signed a separate peace with Germany, legislation his predecessor stubbornly vetoed. President Harding also withdrew American occupation troops from postwar Germany, backpedaled on many of Wilson’s overseas commitments, and dismantled much of the domestic bureaucracy erected to run the war effort. Lastly, he plainly declared the League of Nations issue “as dead as slavery.”[cxi] Despite keeping Europe politically at arm’s length, the United States maintained trading and humanitarian relations with Europe. Through his Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, the United States government, through private actors, participated in postwar famine relief. Republican administrations used such international philanthropy as an agricultural subsidy that built goodwill overseas and boosted economic opportunity for American business.[cxii] Despite the transactional nature, these relief efforts fed approximately 10 million people, including those under Bolshevik rule in Russia. Hoover’s relief efforts earned him the moniker of the “Great Humanitarian,” boosted his political profile, and provided a model for future conservative thinking on American involvement in the world.[cxiii]
In East Asia, sectional tensions within the Republican Party drove the Harding administration to seek a compromised position on American involvement in the Pacific. True to its thinking stretching back to the late 19th century, the Old Guard sought to maintain market access to China. In contrast, the Midwestern cohort held to its ire on the U.S. occupation of the Philippines and the military expenditures that it entailed. To appease both factions while attempting to ameliorate imperial competition in the region, the Harding administration initiated multilateral naval talks outside the confines of the League of Nations. The Washington Naval Conference involved Japan, China, France, Britain, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Portugal and sought to limit the total tonnages of participants’ naval power. For the Harding administration, limiting its naval expenditures in concert with the conference mollified the Midwestern progressives while also securing market access, which secured the Old Guard’s central foreign policy goal.[cxiv]
The Harding administration hoped to use the arms control agreements to freeze regional imperial competition. While no mean, actively anti-imperial, Harding and his supporters expected to prevent further imperial expansion and thereby allow market forces to reign through the region.[cxv] The treaty was also widely favored by Congress and the larger antiwar movement. Fiscal conservatives and antimilitarists approved of the treaty for their respective reasons, and the broader antiwar movement viewed the agreement as a positive step toward disarmament.[cxvi] Additionally, the willingness of congressional Republicans to limit naval expenditures signaled that skepticism of antimilitarism had taken hold within American politics, even among conservative Republicans. Long the bastion of navalism, even the conservative Old Guard was willing to reduce naval spending and let private commerce do the work of public diplomacy.[cxvii] The treaty left one issue unresolved for antiimperialists within the Republican Party: the occupation of the Philippines .
While the Republicans found intraparty accommodations on broader Asian affairs, they remained divided on the Philippines’ independence. Through the 1920s until the early 1930s, Midwestern Republicans, supported by the bulk of the Democrats, increasingly pushed to grant independence to the Philippines, in contrast to their fellow Northern GOPers who supported maintaining the country as a formal colony. Members of the Old Guard continued to view the islands as a beachhead to greater market access to East Asia. After the successful conclusion of the Washington Naval Conference, a clique of Midwestern Republicans backed the bulk of the Democratic Party and attempted to shoehorn the issue of Philippines independence into the Four Power Treaty. Robert LaFollette opposed the treaty, believing that it solidified the U.S. as a “joint adventurer” in Asian imperialism.[cxviii] He posed a treaty amendment that would have made independence of the archipelago a stated goal of the U.S. government. La Follette’s amendment failed, only garnering three fellow Republican votes, George Norris of Nebraska, Edwin Ladd of North Dakota, and Hiram Johnson of California, all members of the party’s progressive cohort. Twenty-three additional supporting votes from the Democratic Party were insufficient to pass the measure.
Throughout the 1920s, the subject of Filipino independence remained at an impasse within the Republican Party and the federal government writ large. It would not be until the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931 and the Great Depression that the political will would manifest to jettison the Philippines from the fold.[cxix] The breakdown of imperial detente in the Pacific moved some Republicans to feel letting go of the islands would prevent further political entanglement and the possibility of being dragged into a Pacific war.[cxx] Such concerns paralleled a new wave of agricultural protectionism and longstanding politics of racial and labor exclusion and created the political space to cut the islands loose. With the deepening economic crisis and the threat of Japanese expansion, Democratic Congressman Butler Hare introduced H.R.7233, a bill to put the islands on a path to independence. The measure passed in both chambers of Congress and was again passed, overriding the presidential veto of Franklin D. Roosevelt. The measure enjoyed bipartisan support, and while the GOP was roughly split on the measure, recent economic and geopolitical issues were enough to shift the party towards independence, albeit for less the high-minded reasons offered by the occupation’s principled opponents.
Where the two halves of the GOP found their most significant differences were on U.S. policy in Latin America. While American policy in Asia struggled with the limitations of multilateral agreements, and America’s role in European affairs remained minimal, U.S. policy in Latin America continued economic dominance supported by selective military interventions. Throughout the 1920s, the Republican administrations viewed the Monroe Doctrine as sacrosanct and perceived Latin America as within America’s legitimate sphere of influence, one secured through economic means. However, the means of enforcement for such views remained contingent through the area of Republican pollical ascendancy. During a diplomatic crisis with Mexico, in which the country’s revolutionary government threatened to seize land owned by American oil companies, now President Calvin Coolidge’s ambassador successfully negotiated an end to the crisis and thereby avoided U.S. government intervention.[cxxi] Such was not the case for Nicaragua, where President Coolidge ordered American marines to return in order to back the conservative government led by Adolfo Díaz and to protect American economic interests.
Coolidge’s use of military force in Nicaragua elicited a backlash within Congress, particularly from the congressional veterans of the Irreconcilables and those whose careers began in the wake of the Spanish-American War. Among them was Senator Borah, who, upon the death of Henry Cabot Lodge in 1924, became the chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Couched with populist language, Borah had long held a dissenting view on using American force in Latin America. During the Harding administration’s first use of military force, Borah asserted that the “people of Nicaragua are being exploited in shameless fashion by American corporations protected by United States Marines.” Fellow Irreconcilables Robert La Follette and George Norris voiced similar concerns.[cxxii]
Borah’s views on Nicaraguan policy hardened after Coolidge’s redeployment of the Marines and subsequent skirmishes between them and Nicaraguan liberals. As with his views on America’s stance in the world, he regarded the federal government’s involvement in Nicaraguan affairs as a violation of that country’s sovereignty. In a speech delivered to the Senate on 13 January 1927, Borah took aim at the Coolidge administration and the logic of interventionism predicated upon the Monroe Doctrine. As in his earlier statements, Borah did not shy away from using controversial language to define American policy in Nicaragua. He described American actions in that country as “financial imperialism” and added that the “imperialist, whatever form his activities may take-oil or mahogany or bonds-appeals to the Monroe doctrine [sic] to protect and justify his course.”[cxxiii].
Borah framed his critique with a narrow reading of the Monroe Doctrine. While not free of his paternalistic thinking visa vie Latin America, Borah rejected the logic that political turbulence justified intervention based on the doctrine in Nicaraguan politics. Instead, he claimed that the doctrine’s sole purpose was to protect the sovereignty of Latin American countries from the machinations of the Old World, not to intervene in the country’s internal affairs. He asserted that there was no evidence that a foreign power was stirring up the country’s troubles; therefore, the doctrine did not apply. He further asserted that to extend the logic of the doctrine from external protection to internal meddling was to change it into a “dagger” and “not a shield to those people.”[cxxiv] Borah went so far as to assert that the U.S. government possessed no right to interfere with the country’s politics whatsoever, arguing that Nicaraguans had a right to embrace the government of their choosing, even if it was despotic or non-republican, “[W]hether [ José Santos Zelaya, Nicaragua previous liberal president] was a despot or a tyrant had nothing to do, or ought not to have anything to do, with a policy of the United States” he argued.[cxxv] Borah’s speech was picked up by the Associated Press, where it was carried by newspapers throughout the country.
Borah and his fellow dissenters would have to wait until the arrival of the Herbert Hoover administration for a substantive change in U.S. Latin American foreign policy. Hoover, the former food czar turned Commerce secretary, entered the Oval Office cognizant of the differences in opinion on Latin America within his own party. President Hoover, guided by these political aims, coupled with his own Quaker antimilitarism and experience seeing the Western Front after the Great War, reversed many of his predecessors’ interventionist Latin American policies. Hoover received a window to act after Nicaraguan rebels killed 12 American Marines on New Year’s Eve, 1930. The subsequent public uproar in Congress and among the public provided Hoover with the means to begin the withdrawal of American troops from Nicaragua. Hoover retrenched the use of hard power elsewhere in Latin America. Through a series of personal changes and early directives, Hoover began moves to withdraw American troops from Haiti, a course that would come to pass under his successor, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.[cxxvi] Hoover’s policy changes, backed by an amenable Congress, laid the groundwork for FDR’s “Good Neighbor” policy.[cxxvii]
Maintaining noninterventionism in government was bolstered by a revisionist history movement that vowed to ensure that America would not make the same mistake of entering another European war, leading to broader critiques of government and commercial power in foreign affairs. American scholarly and popular reaction to the war would birth a tradition of historical revisionism which laid the intellectual foundation for the interwar noninterventionists.[cxxviii] Great War revisionists codified then popular views of the war, which laid significant blame for American entry into the war upon the feet of political leadership, industrial concerns, and financial interests. Revisionists coming out of the Great War provided a central narrative for future noninterventionists that they would use to analyze the Second World War and subsequent American foreign policy. A key figure in this revisionist movement, which would profoundly influence the formation of right-wing noninterventionism, came from a man of the Left, progressive historian Charles Beard.
Despite Beard’s early support for American involvement in the conflict, after the calamity of the war yielded an uneasy and vindictive peace that failed to live up to the Wilsonian dream, he came to regret his decision to support American intervention. In his ensuing journey of disillusionment, he became a key member of the revisionist school in American foreign policy. With his disenchantment with American foreign policy complete, Beard began consuming a growing body of literature critical of the Great War, material that he would later merge with his economic method to study American foreign policy. While Beard rarely published on the issue of foreign policy during the height of his academic career, the 1920s began his journey as a foreign policy revisionist.[cxxix] He commenced his study of the Great War after encountering the work of economist John Atkinson Hobson, particularly Hobson’s article “Why the War Came as a Surprise,” published in September 1920 in Political Science Quarterly. Beard was moved by Hobson’s analysis of Europe’s imperial motives and their internal machinations. Similarly, Beard eagerly read Philip Gibbs’s 1923 book, The Realities of War, a work that struggled to convey the grandiose and indescribable horror of the Western Front. By 1927, Beard admitted in his The Rise of American Civilization, co-written with his wife Mary Ritter Beard, that these works had transformed him into a foreign policy revisionist.[cxxx] In the ensuing years, Beard would craft his own revisionist accounts of recent history and the Great War. In doing so, he helped solidify a foreign policy perspective central to American noninterventionism in the interwar period.
Charles Beard was but one revisionist historian who had a direct influence on foreign policy thinking in the interwar period. A contemporary and friend of Beard, historian Harry Elmer Barnes played a similarly prominent role in codifying a revisionist view of the Great War, which would inform interwar noninterventionism. Barnes, who received his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1918, also consumed the growing body of literature critical of the conflict and its origins. Like Beard, Barnes was an enthusiastic supporter of U.S. entry into the war, one who became disillusioned by the conflict’s end. In the immediate aftermath of the war, Barnes was colleagues with other prominent revisionists who pulled him into their dissenting camp. By 1923, Barnes was a full professor at Smith College and an outspoken critic of the orthodox view, which held the Germans were the sole initiator of the war.[cxxxi] In 1926, Barnes published his own revisionist take with his book, Genesis of the World War. In it, Barnes castigated the Versailles Treaty and its infamous Article 231, the German war guilt clause. The book cast the fault of the war at the feet of all the great powers but explicitly blamed the cadre of the leadership of the French and Russian empires for expanding the conflict and plunging the continent into war.[cxxxii]
Barnes also heaped scorn upon American governance, especially that provided by President Woodrow Wilson. In a foreshadowing of World War II revisionism, Barnes cast Wilson as a devious executive who withheld his desire to enter the war, not to uphold democracy but rather to save the British and the French from defeat. Additionally, Barnes discounted the illegality of German submarine warfare, which he considered “legitimate retaliation” for the British government’s blockade of German ports.[cxxxiii] Barnes’s characterization of war guilt as being shared by the allied powers and chiefly borne by the leadership class informed the Republican Right’s disdain for political leadership and shaped their future analysis of World War II.
The work of revisionists like Barnes and Beard was paralleled by that of journalists. One book, the provocatively titled Merchants of Death, captured the existing noninterventionist narratives and galvanized them for a national audience. The book, written by H.C. Engelbrecht and Frank Hannigan, seized the noninterventionist mood of the era and inspired political action that revived the languishing Neutrality Act within Congress. Merchants of Death explored the world of international arms manufacturing and its tangled connections to modern governance in what they called “the war system.” The work portrayed many prominent noninterventionist critiques, particularly the centrality of corporate-government marriage and the prevalence of Atlanticist influence within the American war-making establishment. The book further mainstreamed a conspiracist narrative of American entry into the Great War by arguing that the US entered the conflict due to the decisions of a discrete set of ideological actors pursuing their own ends.
Merchants of Death, primarily a work of history, cataloged the long ascent of European industrial trusts and arms manufacturers and their influence on the continent’s imperial affairs. For the United States, while the authors cautioned about laying the entirety of the blame at the feet of American capital, they asserted that by aiding the Allies, American business created the incentive for active entry into the Great War. “American finance had placed its bet on the Allied horse,” they asserted, “and if that should fail to reach the post first, the stakes were so enormous that none dared even think of what might happen.”[cxxxiv] What might have happened was a negotiated peace or a German victory, both of which have been determinantal to the then booming American economy, highly leveraged American banks, and armament manufacturers whose reported profits were “simply colossal.” Engelbrecht and Hanigan’s portrayal of a “war system” served as a capstone to the noninterventionism of the era and shepherded Congress into action to maintain American neutrality.
The book’s muckraking authors also embodied the diverse political landscape of interwar noninterventionism. Henry Elmer Barnes forwarded the book. Barnes, a burgeoning revisionist historian in his own right, approvingly called the work a “contribution to industrial history, contemporary ethics, international relations, and the peace movement.” John T. Flynn’s Graft in Business, a work on bribery in the private sector, was among the book’s cited authors. Its creators, H.C. Engelbrecht and Frank Hannigan, represented the ideological diversity of the noninterventionist movement of the interwar period, as Engelbrecht was firmly a man of the left and Hanigan of the right. Engelbrecht was a regular contributor to The World Tomorrow.[cxxxv] Hanighen, then a foreign correspondent for the New York Times and a native of Omaha conservative tendencies. Later in the interwar period, Hanighen became a founding member of the America First Committee and along with writer Felix Morley, started one of the first avowedly conservative publications, Human Events, in 1944.
Merchants of Death did not merely make a historical argument about the recent past; it tapped into the mood of the present and fed an active desire to supply public policy. Despite the arrival of the Great Depression and the massive change in political fortunes it portended, noninterventionism remained a national norm, even with the Democratic Party guiding the ship of state. Indeed, the economic malaise of the early 1930s deepened many of the conditions that pushed Americans into nonintervention. The financial crisis soured most Americans on industry and Wall Street, the targets of much Great War revisionism and Merchants of Death. Additionally, the Depression caused the collapse of the Allied loan-Germany-reparations payment cycle, further feeding Americans’ frustrations with the war, the governments involved, and the private sector actors that armed and bankrolled them.[cxxxvi] And, unlike the nascent Third Reich in Hitler’s Germany, American antimilitarists saw their economic woes as an opening to permanently dismantle the “war system.”[cxxxvii]
With such fertile ground, Merchants of Death was met with commercial and critical success. Merchants of Death was selected as the Book of Month Club’s May 1934 and was featured on the New York Times’s best-seller list.[cxxxviii] In small towns and cities throughout the country, reading and lecture groups covered the book and its material. It inspired sermons and Sunday School lectures from New York to Alabama and Iowa. The combination of the economic and critical success of The Merchants of Death, coupled with the public spectacle surrounding the book, furthered the national mood of noninterventionism within the public and the political class.
Beyond readership, the Merchants of Death was a vehicle for political action and became synonymous with the career of one senator in particular, Gerald Nye of North Dakota. Born in Wisconsin in 1892 to a family with deep Republican roots (both of his grandfathers were Union veterans of the Civil War), Nye came of age in the wake of the Spanish-American War and the advent of the country’s growing sectional divide. While he, like Borah, at first supported intervention in World War I, the war’s economic and moral ramifications transformed him into a staunch non-interventionist. Like other cultural and media figures, Nye’s role as a journalist was instrumental in maintaining noninterventionist sentiment among the Midwest’s rural population and demonstrated the importance of small rural papers in shaping public perception.
From his low perch as a small-town journalist and editor, Nye embodied and reflected the Midwest’s socio-cultural anxieties that informed the region’s noninterventionism. His editorials and other journalistic works reflected the region’s populist tendencies, which came to view both big business and big government with suspicion. In his editorials, Nye assailed eastern and metropolitan business interests for the region’s agricultural economic woes. He similarly aimed his pen at the country’s political elite. While a Republican, he was one of progressive, decentralized stripe and bore no hesitancy in slinging mud at the party leadership, including upon the Harding administration during the Teapot Dome scandal or Midwest’s local political leaders. Through the experience of the war, he came to doubt the efficacy of the technocratic state in alleviating the region’s economic concerns. By 1921, he noted that the War Finance Corporation provided “farmers cheap money,” which was no better than the “corporation-money,” both of which were “a joke” that led to economic ruin.[cxxxix]
His disdain for business and political elites motivated his increasingly strident antiwar stance. By the early 1920s, the war ended, and the seemingly needless sacrifice of 117,000 American casualties to maintain Europe’s status quo forced him into the noninterventionist camp. He asserted to his readers that it was the state that had brought the plains’ latest economic ruin, remarking in one editorial “that the North Dakota farmer was well on his way in a program of diversification when the country plunged into the war” adding that the “war set the diversification program back eight years in North Dakota.” His editorial line also took issue with other organs of the warfare state made possible by the Great War. In one opinion piece, Nye claimed that military preparedness was only made possible by “[w]ar lords, munitions manufacturers and men who buy Liberty bonds.[cxl] With his transformation complete, in January of 1926, Nye would take his populist antimilitarism to Washington.
Nye, already established as an antimilitarist crusader by its publication 1936, channeled the cultural impact of Merchants of Death further his own brand of strident noninterventionism. On the floor of Congress, the Senator from South Dakota claimed that the Merchants of Death would “save our Nation billions and our people much suffering if it could be read by every American.”[cxli] His targets of scorn were both private industry and the federal government. While he placed primacy upon the former, he characterized the relationship between the two entities as a source of world turmoil. In his address, Nye echoed the increasingly popular sentiment that military preparedness created the political and economic incentivizes for further war. Nye claimed that after “preparing defense program,” the U.S. government sent “their supersalesmen off to foreign lands to ply their trade” throughout the world and, in Latin America, had contributed to a political climate of “suspicion and fear.” Nye capped off his address by declaring the arms industry an “insane racket” and an “inhuman trade.” During this speech before the Senate, Nye promoted a resolution he had drafted with his colleague, Senator Arthur Vandenberg (R-OH), to investigate “the activities and methods resorted to by our munitions makers to fatten thin bank accounts in the name of preparedness.”
Nye did not act in isolation but rather made his efforts during a zeitgeist of noninterventionism and antimilitarism, one that cut across partisan boundaries, had support among elite media, and was unburdened by accusations of xenophobia.[cxlii] Among Nye supporters in the press was Oswald Garrison Villard desired answers via the committee. In a provocatively syndicated column entitled “Profiteers in Blood,” Villard argued that business and uniformed military established colluded to maintain combat power engineer war scares for their mutual benefit. This corporatist arrangement led to “a traffic in blood and lives of men the world over.”[cxliii] Like many in the now burgeoning antimilitarist movement, Villard hoped that the committee would create the public will to take private gains out of war. Beyond journalists, the activists too actively lobbied Nye for the hearings. Among them was a pacifist and national director Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Dorothy Detzer. Despite her left-wing and cosmopolitan politics, her efforts were supported by individuals and groups outside of her political orbit, like conservative businessman Henry Ford and the American Legion. The Legion was among the growing body of noninterventionist organizations that publicly called for taking the profits out of the war as early as 1920.[cxliv] And thus, with a transpartisan wind at its back, the so-called known Nye Committee hearings were born.
The Nye Committee was a set of congressional hearings held in the spring of 1934 and winter of 1936. The committee investigated the underlying banking and financial interests of American entry into the Great War and the armaments industry’s role in supplying the allies. The committee was also concerned with the role of profit-seeking in the armaments industry and those motives’ influence on American foreign policy. The committee makeup was amenable to Nye’s goals. Despite being in the minority party, he chaired the committee and was joined by two fellow Republicans, one of whom was Arthur Vandenberg, a fellow noninterventionist from Ohio. They were joined by a third member of the GOP, Senator William Warren Barbour, who possessed a divided voting pattern on foreign policy. Four Democrats rounded out the committee, Senators Homer T. Bone (WA), James P. Pope (ID), Bennett Champ Clark (MO), and Walter F. George (GA). While considered conservative Democrats, they displayed different inclinations on U.S. foreign policy. While none of the Democratic members demonstrated voting records like that of Nye or Vandenburg, only Senator Walter F. George’s voting record demonstrated clear support for the U.S. foreign goals of the White House, while the rest of his Democratic colleagues on the committee were split on the issue.[cxlv]
Despite generating captive headlines during the initial hearings, the committee’s second iteration of investigations in 1936 quickly unraveled. Partisan rivalry undid the committee, as its Democratic members took issue with Nye’s implications that the Wilson administration had deliberately lied about his ignorance of British and French self-interested war aims, a violation of his lofty wartime rhetoric. This assault on Wilson’s legacy and the FDR administration’s unease about the committee’s impact on its plans for American naval expansion ultimately killed the committee.[cxlvi]
Despite its lofty expectations and breathless coverage, the Nye Committee did not ultimately prove a causal relationship between the armaments industry interests and the United States government’s decision to enter the Great War. While the committee generated numerous shocking headlines, they could not prove that the arms industry was especially nefarious in its intent and often found exculpatory evidence. For instance, the committee discovered that arms manufacturers spent less advertising their wares than pacifist groups opposing them. Furthermore, the executives who testified at the committee often acquitted themselves well, so much so that journalists friendly to the noninterventionist cause were forced to admit that America’s arms manufacturers did not fit the archetype of a death merchant.[cxlvii] The committee’s shortcomings were seized upon by Nye’s critics and those who were skeptical of the merchants of death thesis. Such detractors of the committee accused its participants of running a sham more concerned with generating news copy than determining the facts about American civil-military relations. Liberal columnist Walter Lipmann called the committee a “falsification of history” and asserted that it seemed disinterested in what he deemed the proximate cause of American entry into the war, German use of unrestricted submarine warfare.[cxlviii]
Despite these shortcomings, the committee did produce testimony in support of two core revisionist claims, first that the U.S. government entered the Great War due to incentives from capital investment in the Western Allies and second, that the US was a “pseudo-belligerent” long before 1917.[cxlix] For supporters of the committee, these exchanges were enough to validate the hearings and their views of the war. Well into his turn as a war revisionist, Charles Beard was riveted by the committee hearings. In 1936 Beard wrote a book on the committee entitled The Devil Theory of War, in which he further popularized the notion of an economic incentive on the part of the United States government. John T. Flynn, an adviser to Nye and the committee, defended it and its findings. He asserted that its alleged failures were strawmen erected by its detractors. Instead, like Beard, Flynn asserted that the committee established a relationship between substantial American investment in the Allied cause and eventual American entry into the war. Writing in his New Republic column, Flynn asserted that this relationship “thus invited the train of events that bought us into the war.”[cl]
The Nye hearings, Merchants of Death, and their public response led directly to enacting the Neutrality Act. While the act had languished in committees since its original introduction, the public fervor created by the Nye hearings injected new political will into the act and the logic which initially animated it.[cli] The first session of the 74th Congress was the first congressional meeting to convene under a cloud of another possible European conflagration. While Japan had commenced its war against China in 1931, German repudiation of the Treaty of Versailles made the possibility of another world war a subject of continued congressional debate.
Reintroduced in the Senate by Gerald Nye and Democratic Senator from Missouri, Joel Clarke, the 1935 iteration of the act maintained the core of Theodore Burton’s version, submitted eight years prior. As with its predecessor, the new version of the act aimed to prevent the creation of incentives that may pull the United States into another world war. The act eschewed traditional neutrality rights and forbade material assistance to any belligerent side engaged in a war.[clii] As with its precursor, the act declared that Americans who traveled through war zones did so at their own risk. Both provisions codified into law the dissident-turned-mainstream view of American entry into the Great War and sought to eliminate the construction of the incentives to draw America into another European war. However, from the perspective of a noninterventionist, the act was not perfect as it did not embargo trade in raw materials or prevent loads to belligerent nations, and it contained a sunset provision of six months. The Neutrality Act was passed with support from all political parties and all sections of the country. While the act was passed via voice vote in the House and therefore had no rollcall, the Senate version passed 79-2 with the sole oppositional votes coming from two Democrats with five Republicans abstaining.[cliii]
The adoption of the Neutrality Act represented the political and cultural highwater mark of noninterventionism during the interwar period. The act legally codified a zeitgeist of foreign policy critique that had emerged from the Spanish-American and was mainstreamed by the anguish of the Great War. The entry into, execution, and end of the Great War reconciled the two sections of the Republican Party; a forced marriage normalized many dissenting views on America’s role in the world. Among them was conspiracism directed at the country’s political and business elites, a deep distrust of the munitions industry, and a belief that Europe was a corrupting political force to be kept at arm’s length.
The triumph of noninterventionism was strong enough to survive the political turmoil of the early Great Depression and the political seachange it caused. Despite the change in political leadership, an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress passed the acts, a testament to the prevailing mood of noninterventionism. Buoyed by popular acceptance of works like the Merchants of Death, the act and the Nye Committee that proceeded with it codified a revisionist view of the Great War, which located self-interest and deceit as the core of American involvement in the conflict.
This tide of noninterventionism would, however, recede. Shortly after the passage of the Neutrality Act, the Italian invasion of Ethiopia constituted the first of many tests of American commitment to neutrality. The late 1930s witnessed successive waves of authoritarian aggression that would test, crack, and ultimately dissolve popular determination to remain completely neutral in a world marching, once again, into war. As the United States inched itself into another world war, what was once a broad, ideological consensus on noninterventionism would be particularized. On the eve of American entry into World War II, noninterventionism would become “isolationism,” a reactionary force associated with a new conservative movement, later known as the “Old Right.”
[i] Allen, Howard W. “Isolationism and German-Americans.” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 57, no. 2 (1964): 143–149, Doenecke, Justus D. Nothing Less Than War: A New History of America’s Entry into World War I. University Press of Kentucky, 2011. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt2jcfv4.
[ii] Blower, Brooke L. “From Isolationism to Neutrality: A New Framework for Understanding American Political Culture, 1919–1941.” Diplomatic history 38, no. 2 (2014): 345–376.
[iii] Churchwell, Sarah, Behold, America: The Entangled History of “America First” and “the American Dream” (New York: Basic Books, 2018), Dunn, Susan 1940: FDR, Willkie, Lindbergh, Hitler-the Election amid the Storm (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013). Such arguments have been further resurrected and popularized by such works of speculative fiction such as Philip Roth’s The Against America (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004). An exhaustive historiography of “isolationism” can be found in Blower, “From Isolationism to Neutrality: A New Framework for Understanding American Political Culture, 1919–1941.”
[iv] Kazin, Michael War Against War: The American Fight for Peace, 1914-1918 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2017)
[v] Quoted in Kazin, p.21
[vi] Democratic Party Platform, 14 Jun 1916, https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/1916-democratic-party-platform
[vii] Quoted in Kupchan, Charles A. Isolationism: A History of America’s Efforts to Shield Itself From the World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020), p.227
[viii] Powell, p.74
[ix] Kazin, p.22
[x] Dawley, Alan Changing the World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), p.107-108, Gould, Grand Old Party, p. 206-207, Richardson, Heather Cox. To Make Men Free : a History of the Republican Party. (New York: Basic Books, 2014), p.240, and chapter 7 of Thompson, John H. Great Power Rising (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019)
[xi] Gould, Grand Old Party, p. 206-207
[xii] Fleming, p.92, Dueck, Colin Hard Line: The Republican Party and U.S. Foreign Policy Since World War II (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010) p.18
[xiii] Kennedy, p.19
[xiv] Kennedy, p.42
[xv] For more on the complexity of Lodge’s foreign policy opinions see Christopher McKnight Nichols’s Promise and Peril
[xvi] On the dissent Republican-Democrat alliance, see Kazin, War Against War.
[xvii] Dawley, p.123, See also chapter 1 of Kennedy, David M. Over Here the First World War and American Society. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982)
[xviii] See Gage, Beverly, The Day Wall Street Exploded (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009) p.107, Leonard, Thomas, C. Illiberal Reformers (Princeton: Princeton University, 2016), p.46-49, Wiebe, Robert H. The Search for Order 1877-1920 (New York: Hill and Wang, 1967) p.286-302, Rothbard, Murray N. War Collectivism: Power, Business, and the Intellectual Class in World War I, and Kazin, p.196
[xix] Quoted in Nuechterlein, James A. “The Dream of Scientific Liberalism: The ‘New Republic’ and American Progressive Thought, 1914–1920. The Review of Politics, Vol. 42, No. 2 (April 1980), pp. 167–190
[xx] Quoted in Kennedy, p.39
[xxi] See chapter 2 of Drake, Richard Charles Austin Beard: The Return of the Master Historian (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 2018), Nichols, p.127-129, chapter 1 of Radosh, Ronald Prophets on the Right: Profiles of Conservative Critics of American Globalism (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1975)
[xxii] Philbin, James P. “Charles Austin Beard: Liberal Foe of American Internationalism,” Humanitas, Volume XIII, No. 2, 2000, Kennedy, Thomas C. “Charles A. Beard in Midpassage,”The Historian, February, 1968, Vol. 30, No. 2, pp. 179-198
[xxiii] Kupchan, p.226
[xxiv] Nichols, Christopher McKnight Promise and Peril: America at the Dawn of a Global Age (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011) p.139
[xxv] Quoted in Kazin, p.25, see also Doenecke, p.49
[xxvi] Fleming, Thomas The Illusion of Victory: America in World War I (New York: Basic Books, 2003), p.69-71, Kazin, p.25
[xxvii] Fleming, p.70
[xxviii] Powell, p.13, Kazin, p.105-106
[xxix] Quoted in Kazin, p.106
[xxx] Kazin, p.106
[xxxi] Kazin, p.171
[xxxii] Kazin, p.108
[xxxiii] Powell, p.67,
[xxxiv] Neiberg, Michael S. The Path to War: How the First World War Created Modern America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016)
[xxxvi] La Follette, Robert. “The People Do Not Want this War” 1917. In We Who Dare to Say No to War edited by Murray Polner and Thomas E. Woods (New York: Basic Books, 2008) P.127
[xxxviii] Lundeen, Ernest, speaking on H.R. 5913, 65th Congress, 1st sess. Congressional Record 55, pt. 1, p.362
[xxxix] Hull, Harry, speaking on H.R. 5913, 65th Congress, 1st sess. Congressional Record 55, pt. 1, p.347
[xl] Mason, William speaking on H.R. 5913, 65th Congress, 1st sess. Congressional Record 55, pt. 1, p.327
[xli] Quoted in Kazin, p.146
[xlii] Kazin, p.184-185, Kupchan, p.239
[xliii] Quoted in The Idaho Statesman, 5 April 1917 Borah did however oppose other aspects of the war effort such as making large loans to the Allies, and the forthcoming Sedition Act.
[xliv] The sole exception to this sectional rule was from Meyer London, a member of the Socialist Party and Representative from New York’s 12th Congressional district.
[xlv] Kupchan, p.241
[xlvi] Brand, Charles H. speaking on H.R. 3545, 65th Congress, 1st sess. Congressional Record 55, pt.2, p.179
[xlvii] Quoted in Kennedy, p.159. For more on race and conscription, see also Fleming, p.87
[xlviii] Brand, p.179
[xlix] Lundeen, p.363
[l] 8 of 19 House Representatives from west coast states, 42% opposed 65 H.. 3545, “To authorize the President to increase temporarily the Military Establishment of the United States.” 5 of 12 Representatives from Rocky Mountain states opposed the bill, or 41%, 44 of 110 Southerners, or 40%, 43 of 142, 40% of Midwesterners, 4 of 28 those from the Southwest, 14%, and a mere 5 of 121 Representatives from Northern states, or 4% opposed the bill. Opposition was slightly higher among Democrats with 62 of 215 Representatives voting no, 28%, and 45 of 213 Republicans, 21%. See, Congressional Record vol. 55-2, p. 1555; House Journal vol. 65-1, p. 113
[li] See chapter 5 of Kazin, War Against War
[lii] Sedition Act, Pub. L. No. 65-150, 40 Stat. 553 (1918)
[liii] Kazin, p.189
[liv] Fleming, p.106-107, see also Kazin, p.188
[lv] Fleming, p.140
[lvi] Quoted in Fleming, p.140, see also Gage, p.111-113
[lvii] Woodrow Wilson, quoted in Olmsted, Kathryn S. Real Enemies: Conspiracy Theories and American Democracy, World War I to 9/11 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009) p.19
[lviii] Fondren, Elisabeth, and John Maxwell Hamilton. “The Universal Laws of Propaganda: World War I and the Origins of Government Manufacture of Opinion.” The Journal of Intelligence History (2022): 1–19., see also Hamilton, Manipulating the Masses (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2020), Olmsted, p.18
[lix] Hamilton, p.459
[lx] Luff, Jennifer. “The Anxiety of Influence: Foreign Intervention, U.S. Politics, and World War I.” Diplomatic history 44, no. 5 (2020): 756–785.
[lxi] Luff, “The Anxiety of Influence: Foreign Intervention, U.S. Politics, and World War I.” See also, chapter six of Heineman, Elizabeth D., ed. Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones: From the Ancient World to the Era of Human Rights. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt3fhfgp.
[lxii] DeWitt, Petra. “‘Clear and Present Danger’: The Legacy of the 1917 Espionage Act in the United States.” Historical reflections 42, no. 2 (2016): 115–133.
[lxiii] Kennedy, p.68, Kazal, Russell A. Becoming Old Stock The Paradox of German-American Identity. (Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 2004).
[lxiv] DeWitt, “Clear and Present Danger,” see also chapter 1 of Kennedy.
[lxv] My family surname, Buck, was changed from Boch by my great-great-grandfather to escape the wartime hysteria of Baltimore, Maryland. For more on the practice, see Kazal, p.192-193
[lxvii] Conservative media tycoon Henry Regnery cited anti-German sentiment and the fallout of the Versailles Treaty as the roots of his noninterventionism. See Hemmer, Messengers of the Right, p.10
[lxviii] Cole, Wayne S. Charles A. Lindbergh and the Battle Against American Intervention in World War II (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1974)p.18, see also Olmsted, p.13
[lxix] Quoted in Berg, Scott A. Lindbergh (New York: G.P. Putman’s Sons, 1998) p.49
[lxx] See Berg, p.49, Cole, p.18-19, Olmsted p.20
[lxxi] For a detailed analysis of Wilson’s wartime political economy see Chapter 2 of Kennedy, Over Here
[lxxii] Kennedy, p.102-103, Fleming, p.130-131
[lxxiii] Kennedy, p.106
[lxxiv] Aregood, Richard, Shafer Richard & Freedman Eric “American Isolationism and The Political Evolution of Journalist-Turned-US Senator Gerald P. Nye,” Journalism Practice, (2015) 9:2, 279-294, DOI: 10.1080/17512786.2014.941236, for the impacts of agricultural policy on sectionalism and the 1918 election, see Kennedy, p.244
[lxxv] Kennedy, p.120-121
[lxxvi] Kennedy, p.125-126
[lxxvii] Kennedy, p.278
[lxxviii] “Wisconsin on Trial Before United State,” The Richmond Item, p. 3, 27 March 1918, see also Fleming, p.239-240
[lxxix] Kennedy, p.244, Fleming, p.296 – 298, Busch, Andrew E. Horses in Midstream: U. S. Midterm Elections and Their Consequences (Pittsburg: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1999) p.89
[lxxx] Fleming, p.298
[lxxxi] Busch, Andrew E. Horses in Midstream: U. S. Midterm Elections and Their Consequences (Pittsburg: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1999) p.90
[lxxxii] Kazin, p.268
[lxxxiii] In addition to the aforementioned Wisconsin example, historian Thomas Fleming cites Nebraska election postmortems as blaming the violence of the American Protective League for creating an anti-Wilson bloc in the Cornhusker state, see Fleming, p.297
[lxxxiv] Powell, Jim Wilson’s War: How Woodrow Wilson’s Great War Blunder Led To Hitler, Lenin, Stalin & World War II (New York: Crown Forum, 2005)p.135-136
[lxxxv] Kennedy, p.356-357, Powell, p.145, Fleming, p.320, Kazin p.144, see also MacMillan, Margaret. Paris 1919 : Six Months That Changed the World. (New York: Random House. 2003).
[lxxxvi] Fleming, p.373, Powell, p.3
[lxxxvii] Nichols, p.256, Fleming, p. 349-351
[lxxxviii] Nichols, p.232
[lxxxix] Borah, William, speaking on H.R. 5913, 66th Congress, 1st sess. Congressional Record 58, pt. 9, p.8783. For more on Borah’s post-WWI foreign policy worldview, see chapter 6 of Nichols, Promise and Peril. Borah’s views were echoed outside of Congress. Oswald Garrison Villard, at the helm of the Nation magazine had his periodical take an editorial stance that opposed American entry into the League as it would have made the U.S. permanent military ally of the imperial Old World, see Radosh, Ronald Prophets on the Right (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1975) p.71
[xc] Fleming, p.403, Gould, p.224
[xci] Quoted in Gould, p.234
[xcii] Nichols, p.24, p.60
[xciii] Kennedy, p.362
[xciv] Nichols, p.261
[xcv] Fleming, p.410
[xcvi] Hamilton, p.5, Fleming, p.425-426
[xcvii] Quoted in Luff, “The Anxiety of Influence: Foreign Intervention, U.S. Politics, and World War I.”
[xcviii] Creel, George. How We Advertised America. New York: Arno Press, 1972. https://archive.org/details/howweadvertameri00creerich/mode/2up
[xcix] Quoted in Hamilton, https://uscpublicdiplomacy.org/story/meet-author-john-maxwell-hamilton
[c] Quoted in King, Erika G. “Exposing the ‘Age of Lies’: The Propaganda Menace as Portrayed in American Magazines in the Aftermath of World War I.” Journal of American Culture 12, no. 1 (1989): 35–40.
[ci] Quoted in King, Erika G. “Exposing the ‘Age of Lies’: The Propaganda Menace as Portrayed in American Magazines in the Aftermath of World War I.”
[cii] For a history of Europe’s interwar wars, see: Gerwarth, Robert The Vanquished (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016)
[ciii] Quoted in Fleming, p.449.
[civ]Gould, p.230, Fleming, p.453
[cv] Quoted in “Cox Ends Campaign with Appeal for League of Nations,” Herald and Review, 2 Nov 1920, see also Fleming, p.465
[cvi] Wilson’s 1912 electoral college victory was greater but benefited greatly from the Republican split between Taft and Roosevelt.
[cvii] Quoted in Richardson, p.250
[cviii] Quoted in Fleming, p.470
[cix] Gould, p.225
[cx] Blower, Brooke L. “From Isolationism to Neutrality: A New Framework for Understanding American Political Culture, 1919–1941.” Diplomatic history 38, no. 2 (2014): 345–376, Gould, p.250
[cxi] Continetti, Matthew. The Right: The Hundred Year War for American Conservatism (Basic Books: New York, 2022) p.18-19
[cxii] Rosenberg, Emily S. Spreading the American Dream (New York: Hill and Wang, 1982) p.117-120
[cxiii] For more on Hoover’s early relief work, see chapter 1 of Wert, Hal Elliott Hoover vs. Roosevelt (Essex: Stackpole Books, 2023)
[cxiv]McKercher, B. J. C. “Chrysalis of Power: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Retreat from Isolationism, 1919–1941” in A Companion to U.S. Foreign Relations, edited by C.R.W. Dietrich (Wiley, 2020) https://doi-org.mutex.gmu.edu/10.1002/9781119166139.ch17 , Kupchan, Charles A. Isolationism: A History of America’s Efforts to Shield Itself From the World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020) , p.263
[cxv] Foster, Anne L. Projections of Power (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010) p.20-21, Kupchan, p.260-261, Dueck, p.20-21
[cxvi] Zeman, Theodore J. “Military Interventions in the Coolidge Administration: Latin American and Asia” in A Companion to Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover, edited by Katherine A.S. Sibley (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2014 ) p.283-283
[cxvii] See chapter 10 of Kupchan, Isolationism
[cxviii] La Follette, Robert M. “Treaty is Jap and British Victory” The Capital Times, 28 Mar 1922, p.9
[cxix] Kramer, p.424, Immerwahr, Daniel How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States (New York: Picador, 2019) p.158-159
[cxx] McKercher, p.362
[cxxii] Nichols, p.299
[cxxiii] Borah, William H. “The Nicaraguan Situation” 69th Congress, 2st sess. Congressional Record 68, pt. 2, p.1556
[cxxiv] Borah, William H. “The Nicaraguan Situation,” p.1556
[cxxv] Borah, William H. “The Nicaraguan Situation” p.1556
[cxxvi] Nichols, p.299-300
[cxxvii] McPherson, Alan. “Herbert Hoover, Occupation Withdrawal, and the Good Neighbor Policy.” Presidential studies quarterly 44, no. 4 (2014): 623–639.
[cxxviii] Stromberg, Joseph R. “Imperialism, Noninterventionism, and Revolution: Opponents of the Modern American Empire,” The Independent Review, Summer 2006, Vol. 11, No. 1 (Summer 2006), pp. 79- 113
[cxxix] See Philbin, p.50 – 51, and Campbell, Craig, “The Not-So-Strange Career of Charles Beard,” Diplomatic History, Spring 2001, Vol. 25, No. 2 (Spring 2001), pp. 251-274
[cxxx] Philbin, p.51
[cxxxi] Libstadt, Deborah. Denying the Holocaust (Plume: New York, 1994), p.32. Riggenbach, Jeff. Why American History Is Not What They Say (Auburn: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2009)p.106
[cxxxii] Philbin, p.64
[cxxxiii] Philbin, p.65
[cxxxvi] McKercher, p.348
[cxxxvii] Olmsted, p. 28-29, 34, see also McKercher, p.363
[cxxxviii] Doenecke, Justus D., Wilz John E. From Isolation to War 1931-1941 Third edition. (Wheeling: Harlan Davidson, Inc., 2003) p.57, Thompson, For God and Globe
[cxxxix] Aregood, Richard, Shafer Richard & Freedman Eric “American Isolationism and The Political Evolution of Journalist-Turned-US Senator Gerald P. Nye”
[cxl] Quoted in Aregood, Richard, Shafer Richard & Freedman Eric “American Isolationism and The Political Evolution of Journalist-Turned-US Senator Gerald P. Nye”
[cxli] Nye, Gerald, “War Profits-The Profits of War and Preparedness,” 74th Congress, 1st sess. Congressional Record 78, pt. 6,p. 6458
[cxlii] Similarly, Nye’s crusade, unlike his later Hollywood hearings during World War II were untainted by the pall of antisemitism Olmsted, p.30, 36
[cxliii] Villard, Oswald Garrison, “Profiters in Blood,” Herald and Review, 19 Sept 1934
[cxliv] “Should Wealth be Conscripted,” Herald and Review, 4 May 1935, Lyons, Louis. “Strongest Sentiment on Neutrality Seen in Legion, Middle West” Daily Boston Globe 1 Oct 1939. See also Olmsted, p.30
[cxlv] Of the 32 major rollcall votes on foreign or military affairs during the 74th Congress (1935-1937), Gerald Nye opposed all of them, Senator Walter George supported all of them. Other members of the Nye Committee opposed the same body of rollcall votes as follows, Arthur Vandenberg, 78%, Homer Bone, 63%, Joel Clark, 52%, William Barbour, 50%, and James Pope, 46%.
[cxlvi] Moser p.53-57
[cxlvii] Moser, p.52
[cxlviii] Quoted in, Olson, Lynne Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America’s Fight over World War II, 1939-1941(New York: Random House Publishing, 2014) p.67, see all Lippmann, Walter. “Preparation for Neutrality,” The Detroit Free Press 11 Feb 1936, p.4
[cxlix] Drake, p.80, Wiltz, John Edward. “The Nye Committee Revisited,” The Historian, February, 1961, Vol. 23, No. 2 (February, 1961), pp. 211-233
[cli] Moser p.58
[clii] Nichols, p.318
[cliii] The two Democrats who opposed the act were Alabama’s John Bankhead, and Rhode Island’s Peter Gerry. The University of California at Los Angeles’s Voteview.com database refers to the Senate rollcall as a “[l]opsided vote with no ideological division.” https://voteview.com/rollcall/RS0740129
A special thanks to Kelley Vlahos and Responible Statecraft for publishing my latest. The piece places the Twitter Files revelations and greater concerns about government-big tech collusion within the historical context of the American information state. The article illustrates that the U.S. government has a long history of manipulating media for the purposes of steering public opinion on foreign policy. The piece also argues that media attitudes about the practice have evolved from outrage to apathay to active involvement.
Give it a read:
I thought I’d take a detour from writing chapter one to craft a quick blog post on something which has been wracking my brain, how did the American experience in World War I impact “isolationism” on the eve of World War II? Of course, historians of noninterventionism have covered this topic, and I’ve touched on it myself. However, I am curious to see if this relationship was reflected in my dataset. Comparing the voting habits of those members who served during the 65th Congress (1915-1917) and the 77th Congress (1941-1943) revealed some interesting trends.
Looking at Voteview.com’s dataset, 20 Republicans who served in Congress, either in the House or the Senate, on the eve of U.S. entry into WWI and voted on the declaration of war with the German Empire were also in Congress as the U.S. entered WWII. Those 20 Republicans averaged 66% opposition to U.S. policy on the eve of WWII, whereas the 45 Democrats who served during both eras averaged just 25% opposition.
Only four of those 20 posted opposition percentages less than 60%, Allen T. Treadway (MA), Wallace White (ME), Fredrick Hale (ME), James Wadsworth Jr. (NY), and George Norris (NE)
Norris, the New Deal-supporting Republican, turned Independent, was the only member of the 20 who opposed U.S. entry into WWI but became a reliable supporter of U.S. policy entering WWII.
The remaining 16 posted opposition percentages between 61% and 92% to U.S. foreign policy between the 74th and 77th Congresses (before Pearl Harbor). Interestingly, when grouped by their position on entry into WWI, they posted similar opposition to the run-up to WWII. William Borah, “the Great Opposer,” was perhaps the most well know of the 14 and became known for his passionate opposition to the future involvement of the U.S. in foreign wars. And, for those who do not know, only Jeannette Rankin of Montana opposed U.S. entry into WWI and the declaration of war upon Japan after Pearl Harbor.
The Great War and its aftermath solidified Republican opposition toward entry into the Second World War. Whether or not that was “good” or “bad” is irrelevant. “Isolationists” were not merely motivated by myopia, nativism, or antisemitism. Many, like these congresspeople, looked back upon American entry into the Great War and vowed not to do it again.
A special thanks to the Libertarian Institute for publishing my latest, “Brown Scare, Red Scare, Fake Scare, Who’s Scared?”
It is a brief history of the “scare cycle,” the reciprocal political purges between the Left and the Right. It argues that these scares, built upon exaggerated claims of nefarious foreign influence, have narrowed the Overton Window on America’s role in the world, thereby maintaining a belligerent foreign policy.
Give it a read here.