Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Chapter 18: The Progressive Republican Denouement

Chapter 18: The Progressive Republican Denouement

The Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy:

How America’s Civil Religion Betrayed the National Interest


McDougall Book Jacket

The original draft of this book contained 172 pages of endnotes, which had to be shed in the name of economy. Thanks to the Internet, readers can access them here. Unfortunately, of course, the author had to substitute page and paragraph numbers for the original superscripts in the text, but in most cases it should be clear which sentences in a given paragraph match up with which sources.

Paragraphs appearing in their entirety on a single page are identified by the page number (e.g., p. 122). Paragraphs divided between two pages are identified by those pages (e.g., pp. 92-93). Paragraphs that share a page with another complete paragraph are identified by the page number and paragraph number (e.g., p. 103, ¶ 1).





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Chapter 18: The Progressive Republican Denouement:

182-83: Harding Inaugural Address (Mar. 4, 1921):

183: Godfrey Hodgson, “The Foreign Policy Establishment,” in Steve Fraser and Gary Gerstle, Ruling America: A History of Wealth and Power in a Democracy (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 2005), pp. 215-49, includes this witty clarification: “It is not true, whatever you might be tempted to think, that American foreign policy was governed and directed for sixty years exclusively by the friends and relations of Henry Lewis Stimson. Still, that proposition is closer to being true than one would ever expect in a nation notoriously suspicious of aristocracy and elitism” (p. 217). That was so, according to Hodgson, because these original Wise Men understood what the American people were willing and able to absorb in the way of foreign policy entanglements and sacrifices.  Therefore, the people were willing to defer to their elite expertise.  Members of the elite, almost all from the Boston-New York corridor, were educated at exclusive prep schools such as Andover, Groton, St. Paul’s, and The Hill School, followed by Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and sometimes Columbia for graduate school.  They did not constitute a strict social class or cultural circle, but rather a functional elite that gradually opened its ranks to like-minded Jews and Catholics.  Their tendency was to tack on a “middle course” between isolation and crusading … until Vietnam, which destroyed the Establishment.  See also Peter Grose, Continuing the Inquiry: The Council on Foreign Relations from 1921 to 1996 (New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 2006).

185-86: See Stephen A. Schuker, The End of French Predominance in Europe: The Financial Crisis of 1924 and the Adoption of the Dawes Plan (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1976); Charles S. Maier, Recasting Bourgeois Europe: Stabilization in France, Germany, and Italy in the Decade after World War I (Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University, 1975); Walter A. McDougall, France’s Rhineland Diplomacy: The Last Bid for a Balance of Power in Europe, 1918-1924 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University, 1978); Emily S. Rosenberg, Financial Missionaries to the World: The Politics and Culture of Dollar Diplomacy, 1900-1930 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 1999). On Mellon see John Steele Gordon, Hamilton’s Blessing: The Life and Times of Our National Debt (New York: Walker, 2010), pp. 96-111. Mellon explained his fiscal philosophy in Taxation: The People’s Business (New York: Macmillan, 1924).

186: On U.S. military planning in the 1920s see Paul A.C. Koistinen, Planning War, Pursuing Peace: The Political Economy of American Warfare, 1920-1939 (Lawrence: University of Kansas, 1998); Manley R. Irwin, Silent Strategists: Harding, Denby, and the U.S. Navy’s Trans-Pacific Offensive, rev. ed. (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 2013); Robert H. Ferrell, The Presidency of Calvin Coolidge (Lawrence: University of Kansas, 1998). The Harding and Coolidge administrations were not ostrich-like in defense policy by any means. Despite the Washington Conference restrictions and resulting budgetary cuts, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps showed amazing foresight under Secretary of the Navy Edwin Denbyand Assistant Secretary Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.  The Sea Services pioneered or advanced wireless radio throughout the fleet, complete conversion to oil and refueling at sea, aircraft carrier tactics, amphibious warfare, and modern management methods as developed by Du Pont, General Motors, and Standard Oil.  They all paid enormous dividends in 1942.  Coolidge did, however, preside over the infamous 1925 court martial of Billy Mitchell who accused the Army and Navy brass of suppressing the truth about naval air power following his 1921 demonstration of the ability of airplanes to sink a battleship.

186-87: Coolidge Inaugural Address (March 4, 1925):

187: Coolidge Annual Message to Congress (Dec 7, 1926) in Foreign Relations of the United States (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1941), I: xxvi. The United States was obviously the world’s most powerful and secure nation in the 1920s not only because its borders were unthreatened but because its overseas commitments were easily in proportion to its means. That is why those British wags concluded their hilarious historical spoof of the era with the one sentence chapter “AMERICA was thus clearly top nation, and History came to a. <full stop>: W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman, 1066 and All That: A Memorable History of England, comprising all the parts you can remember, including 103 Good Things, 5 Bad Kings and 2 Genuine Dates (London: Methuen, 1930), p. 123. 

187-88: Lodge speech at

John J. Blaine (R., Wisc.) was the only dissenter.  The Kellogg-Briand Pact is still “on the books” and in fact inspired Article 2, Paragraph 4 of the UN Charter: “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”  At the Nuremberg and Tokyo war crimes trials violation of the Kellogg-Briand Pact was a principal charge.

188: Hoover speech at

See inter alia Frank Costigliola, Awkward Dominion: American Political, Economic, and Cultural Relations with Europe, 1919-1933 (Ithaca, N.Y., 1984); Michael J. Hogan, Informal Entente: The Private Structure of Cooperation in Anglo-American Economic Diplomacy, 1918-1928 (Columbia: University of Missouri, 1977); Joan Hoff Wilson, American Business and Foreign Policy, 1920-1933 (Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1971) and Herbert Hoover: Forgotten Progressive (Boston: Little, Brown, 1975).

188-189: Hoover Inaugural Address (Mar. 4, 1929):

189, ¶ 2: Henry Ford chose this moment to sponsor a bizarre anticipation of future American nation-building debacles in the Third World. Hoping to supply his own rubber for automobile tires, he financed the construction of an entire industrial town called Fordlândia in the Amazon jungle of Brazil. None of his managers knew anything about tropical agriculture so the rubber plantations fell prey to insects and blight.  Indigenous workers rebelled against the American-style housing, food, and labor regimentation, not to mention Ford’s Baptist prohibitions of alcohol, tobacco, and women.  Fordlândia never produced any useable latex, but Ford stubbornly persisted in what became for him a sociological crusade to “plant” modern civilization among backward peoples.  See Greg Grandin, Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City (New York:  Metropolitan Books, (June 2009).


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