Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Chapter 19: Roosevelt the Isolationist

Chapter 19: Roosevelt the Isolationist

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 19: Roosevelt the Isolationist:

191-92: Peter C. Rollins, Hollywood’s White House: The American Presidency in Film and History (Lexington: University of Kentucky, 2005), p. 153. The film was released March 31, 1933, the month FDR was sworn in.

192: Roosevelt Inaugural Address (March 4, 1933):

192-93: Robert A. Divine, The Illusion of Neutrality: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Struggle over the Arms Embargo (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1968). See Dominic Tierney, FDR and the Spanish Civil War: Neutrality and Commitment in the Struggle That Divided America (Durham, N.C.: Duke University, 2007). Roosevelt later rued his decision not to assist the Spanish Republic.

193: Anthony Burke Smith, The Look of Catholics: Portrayals in Popular Culture from the Great Depression to the Cold War (Lawrence: University of Kansas, 2010); John Patrick Diggins, Mussolini and Fascism: The View from America (Princeton, 1972); Peter D’Agostino, Rome in America: Transnational Catholic Ideology from the Risorgimento to Fascism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2004).

193-94: Roosevelt’s Quarantine Speech:

See Arnold A. Offner, American Appeasement: United States Foreign Policy and Germany, 1933-1938 (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University, 1969) and Michaela Hoenicke Moore, Know Your Enemy: The American Debate on Nazism, 1933–1945 (New York: Cambridge University, 2010), chronicles the public confusion over the nature of the Nazi regime.  Even the American film industry, despite its powerful Jewish contingent, contributed to that confusion.  See Thomas Doherty, Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939 (New York: Columbia University, 2013) and Ben Urwand, The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 2013).

195: See Christopher McKnight Nichols, Promise and Peril: America at the Dawn of a Global Age (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 2011), on the broad range of isolationist thought in the 1920s. On some specific strains see Nick Salvatore, Eugene V. Debs: Citizen and Socialist, 2 ed. (Urbana: University of Illinois, 2007); Leslie J. Vaughan, Randolph Bourne and the Politics of Cultural Radicalism (Lawrence: University of Kansas, 1997); Kristen E. Gwinn. Emily Greene Balch: The Long Road to Internationalism (University of Illinois Press; 2011); Robert Moats Miller, Bishop G. Bromley Oxnam: Paladin of Liberal Protestantism (Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Press, 1991); Michael Wreszin, Oswald Garrison Villard, Pacifist at War (Bloomington: Indiana University, 1965); Robert David Johnson, The Peace Progressives and American Foreign Relations (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 1995). Their numbers included Robert LaFollette (R., Wisc.), William S. Kenyon (R., Ia.), Joseph L. Bristow (R., Kans.), and George W. Norris (R., Nebr.), whom FDR called “the very perfect, gentle knight of American progressive ideals.”  See also Manfred Jonas, Isolationism in America, 1935-1941 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University, 1969); Thomas N. Guinsburg, The Pursuit of Isolationism in the United States Senate from Versailles to Pearl Harbor (New York: Garland, 1982); and Robert E. Jenner, FDR’s Republicans: Domestic Political Realignment and American Foreign Policy (Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2010).

195-96: Revisionists included Harry Elmer Barnes, The Genesis of the World War: An Introduction to the Problem of War Guilt (New York: Knopf, 1926), and Sidney Bradshaw Fay, The Origins of the World War, 2 vols. (New York: Macmillan, 1929). The shocking bestseller was H.C. Engelbrecht and F.C. Hanighen, Merchants of Death (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1934). For a thorough assessment of the literature on the Engelbrecht thesis see T. Hunt Tooley, “Merchants of Death Revisited: Armaments, Bankers, and the First World War,” Journal of Libertarian Studies 19, no. 1 (Winter 2005): 37-78.  Paul A. C. Koistenen, Planning War, Pursuing Peace: The Political Economy of American Warfare, 1920-1939 (Lawrence: University of Kansas, 1998), pp. 292-304, discusses the impact of the debate.  Congress abruptly ended the Nye Commission by cutting off funding, but the hearings served their purpose by exposing Wilson’s un-neutral policies.  The Export Department of J. P. Morgan had served as the veritable purchasing agent for Britain and France with nearly all of America’s industrial giants.  Nye concluded: “No member of the Munitions Committee to my knowledge has ever contended that it was munitions makers who took us to war.  But that committee and its members have said again and again, that it was war trade and war boom, shared in by many more than munitions makers, that played the primary part in moving the United States into a war” (295).  Smedley Butler confessed: “I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914.  I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in.  I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street.  The record of racketeering is long….  Looking back on it, I feel I might have given Al Capone a few hints.  The best he could do was to operate his racket in three cities.  We Marines operated on three continents.” See Hans Schmidt, Maverick Marine: General Smedley D. Butler and the Contradictions of American Military History (Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1998), p. 231.

196-97: The last opinion, FDR the Frivolous Improvisor, is that of Paul Johnson, Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Eighties (New York: Harper & Row, 1983), pp. 344-45. On historians’ views generally, see Robert Dallek, Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Foreign Policy, 1932-1945 (New York: Oxford University, 1995), pp. 529-34. On one item at least FDR gets a bum rap: he was not tardy, but as timely as possible, when it came to rearmament. Thanks to White House support Congressmen Carl Vinson (D., Ga.) and James Wadsworth (R., N.Y.) were able to pass new naval construction bills in 1934, 1936, 1938, and 1940 authorizing construction of six battleships, five aircraft carriers, and many cruisers, destroyers, and submarines.

198-99: Gary Scott Smith, “Religion and the Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt,” in Gastón Espinosa, ed., Religion and the American Presidency: From George Washington to George W. Bush (New York: Columbia University, 2009), pp. 185-217 (quote p. 203). Andrew Preston, Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy (New York: Knopf, 2012), pp. 315-26 (quotes from pp. 317-22).

199: Roosevelt’s Radio Speech:;

Roosevelt’s Convention Speech:


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