Raymond Clapper – Isolationism (11-5-41)

The Pittsburgh Press (November 5, 1941)


By Raymond Clapper

Washington –
The poor attendance at the Senate, the blocks of empty gallery seats, the casual indifference of the few Senators on the floor, would not suggest that anything unusual was going on.

Yet something most unusual is taking place. The Senate is considering whether to reverse the isolationist policy which has had such a deep hold on the country for 20 years. Isolationist Senators say they are licked and that the Senate will vote within the next day or two to scrap the main features of the Neutrality Act. House leaders expect the Senate action will be approved in the House.

This Neutrality Act that is now about to go out was the final embodiment of isolationist policy. Its theory was that we could avoid war by keeping our ships out of the war zones so that no provocative incidents would occur. Most of the country believed that we would be immune from any war if we ducked into the storm cellar and stayed there until the trouble blew over. The isolationists then were not a dwindling band of desperate last-ditchers, fighting a rearguard action to keep the record straight. They were then the real voices of America.

Incidents burden to isolationists

What has caused the collapse of American isolationism? What has brought Congress to the point of reversing the trend which the nation has followed for 20 years?

It is no answer to say that the isolationists are playing Hitler’s game. It is no answer to say that they suffer from the cranks, innocent or vicious, who have fastened themselves to the isolationists. The shadowy characters who are mixed up in some of the fringe groups, the antisemitism, the offensive tactics, the Des Moines blunder of Lindbergh, Wheeler’s inept campaign against the movies, the franked-mail incidents – these have all been a burden to the isolationist movement. They have sickened some of the high-minded isolationists. But every movement has its lunatic fringe and its barnacles. They are not enough to account for the collapse of the isolationist movement.

Neither has it been due to Mr. Roosevelt’s persuasiveness. His attempts to frighten the country have been received with much indifference. His serious attempts to spell out the dangers of gradual encirclement, his warnings that real defense of this hemisphere requires attention to offshore strategic points, did not awaken any noticeable waves of public clamor. He has had to take the necessary actions, such as the occupation of Iceland, by going out on his own and trusting to public approval after the act.

Events have driven the country reluctantly along step by step. Germany and Japan have done it.

News turned country about-face

Japan’s threatening course in the Pacific, the news dispatches from the Far East, have themselves sounded the danger signals.

Germany’s actions have spoken louder than anybody’s words and alarms. The sinking of American ships far outside the war zones has told this country that there was no safety for our ships anywhere except tied up in our own ports. Hitler’s surprise dawn attack on his partner, Russia, following his repeated invasion of countries whose borders he had promised to respect, told this country that the man was too treacherous to be trusted. The ruthless execution of hostages in the occupied countries told this country of the unbounded brutality of this regime.

In all, Germany’s actions have shown first that Hitler is a dangerous person to try to do business with and second that he is disposed to show no consideration for our rights. His sea warfare, insofar as it can, would cut us off from supplies of raw materials necessary for our own defense. Hitler has said his system or ours must go. His actions say that even more convincingly.

So the news dispatches come rolling in. This sinking and then that one. 97 Americans perish in the sinking of the American destroyer Reuben James. Navy oil tanker torpedoed. Day after day the news pounds in on the American people.

The news, not the views, turned this country about-face within the last year, slowly, in face of extreme reluctance, but inescapably.

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