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Isolation Vs Intervention - World War 1

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Isolation vs Intervention

“With great power, comes great responsibility” would be the perfect quote to describe America’s unsure and hesitative ascent to lead global politics. In the aftermath of WWII, she needed to start considering how her political moves could have rippling effects on the world. America shifted from being isolationist post-WWI to being aggressively interventionist from WWII to the end of the Korean War, due to the growing fear of aggressor nations and communism; as well as responsibilities assumed by the Eisenhower administration to combat and “contain” communism.

After WWI, America entered a period of isolationism due to disillusionment with the prospect of American global leadership, the Great Depression, and public fatigue from WWI. Regarding American leadership in the world, the defeat of the Treaty of Versailles in Congress meant that America would not participate in the League of Nations, diminishing much of American political participation globally post-war. Anti-League sentiments could be reflected in the speech of Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, President Woodrow Wilson’s greatest rival concerning American participation in the League, to the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in 1919, where he stresses that if Wilson “tangles [America] in the intrigues of Europe, [he] will destroy [America’s] power for good and endanger her very existence.” Lodge was concerned about how the League could overpower the Senate to declare war, a constitutional right guaranteed to the Senate. Lodge represented the majority faction of politicians that refused any hindrance to America’s independence in foreign dealings, and the defeat of the Treaty secured the political attitude towards foreign affairs for the next two decades. The Great Depression during Harding, Coolidge and Hoover’s presidencies meant that America was bogged down even more with domestic crises, rendering her unavailable to deal with foreign affairs that included the uprising of Nazi Germany and Militarist Japan. As a result, America had only weak responses to imminent threats, including the Washington Treaty, brokered by America at D.C., and signed by Britain, Japan, France, and Italy in 1922, which stressed that “no new capital news shall be constructed or acquired by any of the Contracting Powers except replacement tonnage.” Unfortunately, the treaty only set a limit for battleships and aircraft carriers, and thus allowed aggressor nations to amass large amounts of other naval weapons like submarines and destroyers – the Treaty did not remedy the problem at all. Japan even eventually withdrew from the Treaty in 1932. Another similarly useless political move was a message from Secretary of State Henry Stimson to the Japanese government after its invasion of Manchuria in 1932. Stimson warns Japan to cease aggression towards China – however, this is a weak attempt at dissuading Japanese aggression without military intervention. It was not until the final year of WWII in 1945 that America would help China repel Japan through the Pacific War.

Before WWII broke out, the advent of President Franklin D. Roosevelt renewed American intervention in European affairs – his New Deal helped stabilize the national economic crisis, enabling America to refocus on foreign affairs; the fall of important Allied powers like France also shocked America into realizing the threat that the Axis Powers posed. After he stabilized the economy and society, Roosevelt started rallying support and attention for the growing threat in Europe. In a speech in 1937, he mentions how “the peace-loving nations must make a concerted effort in opposition to those violations of treaties and those ignorings of humane instincts” – here he is calling upon America to stand up against the aggressive Nazi Germany – “which today are creating a state of international anarchy and instability from which there is no escape through mere isolation or neutrality.” – Here he condemns the current isolationist, neutralist attitude of America towards Europe and warns that continuing such an attitude could have disastrous results. During the war itself, Roosevelt also makes efforts to push America into global leadership at the Tehran Conference in 1943, where he proposed the founding of the United Nations and “the Four Policemen”, comprised of the Soviet Union, Britain, America and China. These international organizations were planned



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