Isolationism and Internationalism
Two Views on American Foreign Policy, 1940
Isolationism - George Bender, Congressional Representitive from
If they were challenged to name one basic doctrine of America's foreign policy, most
Americans would agree without hesitancy that our main principle is an absolute
determination to keep Europe out of America and America out of Europe. Since the time when
George Washington expressed this fundamental concept, we have had ample opportunity to
recognize his wisdom. With his warning , that our national destiny was completely divorced
from the fate of European nations, as the cornerstone of our foreign relations, we have
steered a safe course through the stormy currents of European affairs. Whenever we have
chosen to ignore his advice, we have had good cause to regret. Whenever we have followed
it carefully, the United States has been the gainer.
The dangers of American participation in another war must not be ignored. Every
consideration, self-interest, wisdom, the need for a strong moral influence towards peace,
makes it imperative that the United States keep, out of this war.
Precisely as we express our dislike of dictatorship everywhere without seeking to crush it
through armed force, so must Americans view dictatorship in Germany. Are we to force a
democracy on the German people? In far-off Asia, in Russia, in Siam, in India, human
liberties are also denied. We do not rush in to liberate those who are oppressed. We do
not brand their taskmasters as "aggressors." We dislike what we see, but we
refuse to rush in where angels fear to tread.
We Americans must not deceive ourselves into a mistaken belief that it is our role in
world history to bring about peace and harmony through the use of the sword. Our task is
to demonstrate by example that the program of democracy can work effectively.
Yet the demand is rising from those who refuse to learn. "Now is the time," they
tell us, "to intervene. Now we can walk into Europe to strike a decisive blow for
human freedom. We must crush the Germanic monster to keep the world safe for
democracy!" The words sound all too familiar. They were the slogan of the last war.
Are we to be dragged into foreign lands again on the basis of 1917? Are we to shed the
blood of our youth on foreign battlefields once more to restore to order a chaotic
Our political history represents a determination to turn our back upon European
entanglements. It is a complete repudiation of the European technique of government and
the European approach to the solution of world problems. We believe in conference; Europe
believes in conflict. We believe in settling disputes by discussion; Europe believes in
Internationalism - Sec'y of State Cordell Hull, 1938
What is at stake today, throughout the world, is the future of the fundamental
principles which must be the foundation of international order. Those who contend that we
can and should surrender these principles clearly show that they have little idea of the
extent to which developments in any part of the world of today. Inevitably affect
conditions in other parts of the world. The triumph of this isolationist viewpoint would
carry the whole world back to the conditions of medieval chaos. Such is the fate to which
extreme isolationists--all those who say that under no circumstances should we insist upon
any rights beyond our own territorial waters--would commit this country and the world.
The momentous question is whether the doctrine of force shall become enthroned once more
and bring in its wake international disorder and a return to barbarism. Or will this end
and other peaceful nations work unceasingly to promote and preserve law, order, morality,
and justice as the unshakeable bases of civilized international relations?
We might turn our backs on the whole problem and decline the responsibility and labor of
contributing to its solution. But let us have no illusion as to what such a course of
action would involve for us as a nation. It would mean a voluntary abandonment of some of
the most important things that have made us a great nation.
It would mean a slavish retreat before those forces which we have, throughout our whole
national history, constantly opposed. It would mean that our security would be menaced as
other nations came to believe that, either through fear or unwillingness we did not intend
to protect our national interests abroad, but intended to abandon them at the first sign
of danger. The sphere of our international relationships would shrink and shrivel, until
we would stand practically alone among the nations, a hermit state. Thrown back upon our
own resources, we would find it necessary to reorganize our entire social and economic
structure. The process would mean less production and at higher costs; lower living
standards; economic distress to wage earners and farmers; and the dole, on an
All this we would be doing in pursuit of the notion that by so doing we would avoid war.
But would these policies really give us any such assurance?
Reason and experience definitely point to the contrary. We may seek to withdraw from
participation in world affairs, but we cannot thereby withdraw from the world itself.
Isolationism is not a means to security; it is a fruitful source of insecurity.