American Neutrality and the Spanish Civil War


Although Franklin Roosevelt realized that the American economy is tied inextricably to the economies of other nations, he thought of the New Deal as a primarily domestic program. He hoped to unknot American problems without "entanglement" abroad. Like other presidents who have shared his hopes, he was disappointed. Adolf Hitler came to power the same year that Roosevelt did. On March 7, 1936, Hitler reoccupied the Rhineland and began his long campaign for Lebensraum. In Benito Mussolini, whose Fascist troops had invaded Ethiopia in 1935, Hitler found a ready ally.

Then came the Spanish Civil War. The Spanish Republic of 1931 was attacked by its own generals on July 17, 1936. Spain was ideologically fragmented into contentious factions--Fascists, Monarchists, Liberals, Communists, Socialists, Anarchists. Americans of every commitment found Spaniards with whom to identify. Americans did identify. They took sides. Some wrote passionate letters or articles; some raised money or led protest rallies; some journeyed to Spain and fought in the International Brigades. The intervention, on opposite sides, of Germany and Italy and the Soviet Union intensified the feelings of Americans who watched the Spanish Civil War as a kind of limited Armageddon. For a whole generation, Spain became the focus of hope and fear.

Under British prodding, the French Government of Léon Blum proposed a Non-Intervention Committee. The Committee, which met for the first time on September 9, 1936, consisted of twenty- seven nations pledged not to intervene in the Spanish conflict. President Roosevelt had already taken steps to achieve American neutrality. On August 7, 1936, Acting Secretary of State William Phillips notified American officials in Spain that the United States would "scrupulously refrain from any interference whatsoever in the unfortunate Spanish situation." One week later, at Chautauqua, New York, President Roosevelt laid down the policy of the "moral embargo." Since the American Neutrality Act of 1935--passed in response to Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia--did not cover civil wars, the President asked patriotic Americans not to sell or transport munitions to Spain. He denounced the "thousands of Americans" who sought "immediate riches" even at the risk of involving their nation in war. But Robert Cuse, an American businessman, refused to accept the "moral embargo." He asked licenses to export $2,777,000 worth of aircraft materials to Republican Spain on the Mar Cantábrico. As the ship loaded in New York harbor, the President requested emergency legislation that effectively halted almost all American trade with Spain. (The Texaco corporation successfully supplied General Franco with oil, but this success was ex-


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