Roosevelt, from Munich to Pearl Harbor: A Study in the Creation of a Foreign Policy

By Basil Rauch | Go to book overview

2.
Roosevelt and the "New Neutrality

STATESMANSHIP HAS BEEN SAID TO BE THE ART OF RECONciling the ideal and the possible. Franklin D. Roosevelt held internationalism as an ideal throughout his career. As Assistant Secretary of the Navy under President Wilson, and then as candidate for Vice President in 1920, he worked to carry out the ideal by advocating United States entry into the League of Nations. When that failed, he did not again advocate achievement of the ideal by United States membership in a world organization until the fall of France made the American people and their Congress ready to try forehandedness in preventing war by the method of collective security.

In the years between 1920 and 1940, Roosevelt did not abandon internationalism as an ideal, but he worked to install it as the policy of the United States by measures short of joining a world organization. During the twenties the American people showed in elections that they were unwilling to join the League, and Roosevelt himself came to distrust it as a distortion of Wilson's project. Advocates of collective security held the United States partly responsible for this distortion because its absence encouraged use of the League for narrowly nationalist purposes by the other victorious Allies. In any case, isolationist sentiment in the Democratic Party became so strong that, in 1932, it was politically expedient for Roosevelt as a presidential candidate to reject United States entry into the League, and this he did before he was nominated.

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