The Lead-Up To War Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

As conflict began erupting in Europe in the late 1930s, many Americans drew on their location in North America and their experience in the past to conclude that events abroad had little impact on them. They believed, that is, that they were uniquely protected by geography and even by a kind of national destiny as an “exceptional” country vis-à-vis the rest. The United States, it was argued, could best lead by setting an example, not by following the course of other nations. Thus, during the Roosevelt administration members of the isolationist wing of Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, sought to keep the United States out of any entangling alliances that might draw the nation into a foreign war. They believed in the defense of the United States and in US dominance in its own sphere of influence, but not in participating in the League of Nations or any other such international concerns or operations. The surprise, of course, is that much the same sentiment had circulated prior to the US entry into World War I, when it proved to be rather untenable. Now isolationism was again resurgent, even as much of the rest of the world realized that something like a community of nations did exist and that it was bound together by international markets, modern communications, overlapping histories, and shared destinies. In any case, although the isolationists managed to hold sway for several years prior to America's entry into World War II, once the bombs fell on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 their cause became moot and their voice silent.

As conflict began erupting in Europe in the late 1930s, many Americans drew on their location in North America and their experience in the past to conclude that events abroad had little impact on them. They believed, that is, that they were uniquely protected by geography and even by a kind of national destiny as an “exceptional” country vis-à-vis the rest. The United States, it was argued, could best lead by setting an example, not by following the course of other nations. Thus, during the Roosevelt administration members of the isolationist wing of Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, sought to keep the United States out of any entangling alliances that might draw the nation into a foreign war. They believed in the defense of the United States and in US dominance in its own sphere of influence, but not in participating in the League of Nations or any other such international concerns or operations. The surprise, of course, is that much the same sentiment had circulated prior to the US entry into World War I, when it proved to be rather untenable. Now isolationism was again resurgent, even as much of the rest of the world realized that something like a community of nations did exist and that it was bound together by international markets, modern communications, overlapping histories, and shared destinies. In any case, although the isolationists managed to hold sway for several years prior to America's entry into World War II, once the bombs fell on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 their cause became moot and their voice silent.

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