The idea of American Isolationism became popular after WW1 which had left many Americans with a feeling of distrust of Europe and wondering whether the deaths and sacrifices of WW1 had been worthwhile. American Isolationism was further fueled by the suspicion that the massive amounts of money, made by the munitions industry and arms manufacturers, had played a major role in the US involvement in the Great War.
The geography of the USA, surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, made the policy of American Isolationism seem obvious and the natural resources available to the nation led to the belief that the US could survive alone, although the advantages to be gained by trade with other countries was also appreciated. Recovery from the devastating economic crisis of the Great Depression was uppermost in the minds of Americans and the policy of American Isolationism seemed the logical way forward for many.
American Isolationism in the 1930's
World War I had left the American public suspicious of foreign wars and diplomatic entanglements. Americans were questioning whether the deaths and sacrifices of WW1 had been worthwhile.
Deep in the midst of the terrible effects of the economic crisis and the Great Depression anti-war and isolationist sentiments surged in America.
Americans watched in horror as countries assumed Totalitarianism governments following WW1 and witnessed the rise of the Dictators who adhered to political ideologies such as Fascism, Nazism, Militarism and Communism.
The aggressive and expansionist policies of Italy, Germany and Japan sent out strong warning signals that the world might be heading for yet another major international war.
The land mass of the United States, distanced from the troubles in Asia and Europe by the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, made the policy of Isolationism seem the most obvious and safest of policies.
FDR achieved great public support for his greatest foreign policy success through his Good Neighbor Policy towards Latin America in countries of the Western Hemisphere that covered South America, Central America and the Caribbean.
Many Americans believed that the money made by US arms manufacturers in WW1 had played a major part in the US involvement in the Great War.
Isolationist ideas spread through the media and American popular culture during the mid-1930s. The 1934 publication of the 'Merchants of Death' followed by 'War Is a Racket' increased public suspicions of wartime profiteering.
In 1934 the Nye Committee (Special Committee on Investigation of the Munitions Industry) was a Senate committee established to investigate the financial interests behind the United States involvement in WW1. The Nye Committee investigations covered the U.S. entry into WW1, the munitions industry, banks and war profits.
The Nye Committee report detailed the massive profits made by arms factories during WW1 and commented on excessive influence that the munitions industry had held on American foreign policy leading up to and during World War One.
Disillusionment over WW1 fed opposition to foreign entanglements and support for the policy of American Isolationism. An opinion poll taken in 1935 found that 70% of Americans believed that intervention in World War I had been a mistake. The findings of the Nye Report influenced American public opinion in the direction of Isolationism and the neutrality of the US.
Strong anti-war and non-interventionist sentiments were expressed by the 'America First Committee' a group who favored Isolationism and staunchly opposed US intervention or providing aid to the allies. The National hero and aviator Charles Lindbergh was the most famous isolationist.
American Isolationism was gaining support from the younger generation and another 1935 public opinion poll indicated that 39% of college students would refuse to participate in any war, even if the country was invaded
The Neutrality Acts of the mid-1930's were passed in response to the growing turmoil in Europe and Asia and designed to prevent the US from being entangled in another possible foreign war. The Neutrality Act in 1935 made it illegal to sell arms to any countries at war and was based on the belief that the sale of arms had helped bring the US into WW1.
Following the German invasion of Poland, Great Britain declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939. Due to the public backing of American Isolationism the USA did not join the Second World War and the United States declared its neutrality on September 5, 1939
FDR began to move away from the policies of Isolationism, Non-intervention and neutrality when he used a loophole in the Neutrality Acts to set up the Destroyers-for-Bases deal with Great Britain.
The 1941 Lend-Lease Act removed the cash requirement of the Neutrality Acts allowing the allies continued access to American arms, munitions and supplies despite their rapidly deteriorating financial situation.
In June 1941 Germany launched a massive invasion of the Soviet Union and Lend-Lease aid was extended to the USSR. China was already benefiting for their war against the Japanese. Many members of the Isolationist movement were furious that the US was supporting the Soviet Union with its communist and atheistic regime. The view being expressed by the Isolationists was that the Fascists, Nazis and Communists should be left to fight it out alone.
Public opinion in America against involvement in World War II and American Isolationism began to change following the "Greer incident" on September 4, 1941, the attack on the USS Kearny on October 17, 1941, the speech given by FDR on the "Navy Day Address" on October 27, 1941 and sinking of the U.S.S. Reuben James on October 31, 1941.
The United States declared war on Japan on December 8 1941 and joined the fight in WW2 following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.
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