The American Age: United States Foreign Policy at Home and Abroad

By Walter Lafeber | Go to book overview

11
The Rise and Fall of the American
Structure for World Order (1920-1955)

HARDING, HUGHES, AND HOOVER

A bitter, disillusioned young Wilsonian, Walter Lippmann, wrote in November 1920 that the election of Warren Gamaliel Harding to the presidency was "the final twitch" of America's "war mind." Harding won not because many admired this mediocre Republican senator from Ohio, but because, in Lippmann's view, the people's "public spirit was exhausted" after the war effort. "The Democrats are inconceivably unpopular." 1 The new president's intellectual abilities were not high. Journalist H. L. Mencken wrote that Harding's use of language (which Mencken called "Gamalielese") was "so bad that a certain grandeur creeps into it." Alice Roosevelt Longworth, TR's tart-tongued daughter, recalled that "Harding was not a bad man. He was just a slob." 2

But the president understood two facts that made U.S. foreign policies between 1920 and 1933 most instructive to later Americans. First, he knew that although the country wanted to return to "normalcy" (he meant to say "normality," but Gamalielese got in the way), the pre‐ 1914 "old order" could never be rebuilt. Nor should it be rebuilt, Harding told Congress in 1922, because "out of the old order came the war itself." A new international system, built by American hands and money, and based on American principles, now had to be erected on the bloody ruins of the old European order. Second, Harding recognized his own

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