Perspectives on 20th Century America: Readings and Commentary

By Otis L. Graham Jr. | Go to book overview

world politics, thrusting her commercial and diplomatic influence into many corners of the world, evolving gradually into a global power not able to avoid influencing other nations and being influenced by them. When World War II came, we were sure to be deeply involved in shaping international events. No account presenting us as passive innocents could be a believable account. We had economic and strategic interests around the world, and we pushed and shoved for years to advance them, as other nations have always done. The public was isolationist during the entire period from the 1880s to World War II; but American power, primarily economic but also upon occasion diplomatic and military, was often employed abroad. We were deeply involved in world affairs in the 1930s (as before) despite the strength of isolationist sentiment, involved by our own volition and in search of our own gain. The record shows extensive economic contacts and interests abroad, frequent military interventions, an erratic but active diplomatic career. Isolationism did not mean that the United States was isolated, only that she wished to be isolated from responsibility and retribution, should either be pressed upon her. Scholars now accept all this, after passing through the apparently inevitable postwar period of seeing one's country as an innocent victim. They no longer refuse to take seriously any suggestion of American responsibility for World War II and the Cold War in the 1940s.

But while a revisionist temper was both predictable and basically salutary, it only freed us from an outlook which was too uncritical. The extent of American responsibility for the origins of both hot and cold wars, and for the shape the conflict took, remains to be determined. It is important to have broken free of the tenacious hold of patriotic history -- to be in a position to call attention to whatever degree of American folly, aggressiveness, selfishness, cynicism, and arrogance that seems warranted by the evidence. But to locate all the sources of the violence of 1938-1947 in American policy, as some revisionist authors have done, is to repeat the error of the patriotic historians. The task of serious students of history is to put themselves intellectually and emotionally in a position of independence where they may see the truth and report it. Since the first historical accounts of recent wars written by Americans were usually self-serving, the critical efforts of revisionists have been indispensable. They should be given the widest circulation and the most objective and searching discussion, so that we may move closer to an understanding of the causes of war.


12.
Paul W. Schroeder: An Appraisal of American Policy, 1941

Just as no American war has had unanimous public support at home, there have always been American scholars who have dissented retrospectively from their country's decision to fight. Such revisionists seem to have made a convincing case against the Mexican War and the Spanish-American War,

From Paul W. Schroeder, The Axis Alliance and Japanese-American Relations, 1941, pp. 200-216. © 1958 by the American Historical Association. Reprinted by permission of Cornell University Press.

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