Garrett was the most eloquent opponent of U.S. involvement in World
War II. Unlike his jeremiads against the New Deal and the Cold War
"The Revolution Was" and "Rise of Empire"
he did not put his arguments against intervention into a
book. They appeared as the anonymous editorial voice of the Saturday
Evening Post. Week after week in 1940 and 1941, Garrett, the
magazine’s chief editorial writer, thundered against the foreign
policy of Franklin Roosevelt.
country now goes where it does not look and looks where it does
not go," Garrett wrote in the issue of Sept. 7, 1940. "If
it should come awake one morning to read in the newspaper headlines,
or hear by the radio, that it had walked backward into war, it would
take it no doubt as having been somehow inevitable from the first,
and yet nobody would be able to say quite how or why it happened."
months later, on Dec. 7, 1941, it did happen in just that way
and not without many warnings.
new collection of Garrett’s war editorials, Defend
America First, tells much of the story of how Pearl Harbor
happened not the secret plottings, but the plottings in the
open, the things obvious to anyone listening to the radio and reading
the newspapers at the time. Much of it amounts to thinking on the
meanings of words and acts, and arranging them with a sense of history.
It is not the history of hindsight, but of what was known at the
time, mostly things that have been forgotten in the 60 years since.
first editorial in the series is from the issue of April 8, 1939,
dated five months before the German and Russian invasion of Poland.
(The dates are about one month after the pieces were written.) Garrett
was a stranger thing than that the American people should be inviting
themselves to another world war before it happens.
frequent intervals those who sample the waters of public emotion
heave their questionnaires into the stream such as, ‘If
England and France were attacked by the dictators, will this country
have to do something about it?’ or, ‘Shall the democracies of
the world at any cost, stand together?’ and when what comes
up is put through the sieve that separates the ayes and noes,
the tabulated result shows the steady onset of the idea that we
shall have to save the world for democracy again. But you do not
need the statistics. You can feel it. There is all at once an
intellectual cult of interventionists. The feet of many pacifists
are running in the paths toward war."
style is not modern, and may take some getting used to. You have
just read a sentence of 86 words, which in the hands of most writers
would turn the reader blue in the face. Garrett does it with grace.
was a self-educated man. Born in the 19th century on a horse-powered
farm, he dropped out of grammar school and learned from reading
books. He left home by jumping a train. By 1900 he was a financial
journalist on Wall Street and by World War I was on the editorial
board of the New York Times. In 1922 he began writing for
the Saturday Evening Post, which was the most influential
voice to the American middle class. In the 1930s he attacked the
Roosevelt government’s economic quackery and sabotage of the Constitution
in many Post articles, some of the best of which are included
in my first Garrett collection, Salvos Against the New Deal
came to the preliminaries of World War II believing that World War
I had been a total loss, and that the U.S. Treasury loans to Britain
and France during that war and to Germany afterward had been a futile
exercise in saving Europe. The course of wisdom in a European fight
was to stay out of it. That did not make Garrett any kind of pacifist.
Just after the fall of France, for the issue of July 20, 1940, he
is too late to debate whether our foreign policy shall be that
of the turtle or the bald eagle. The eagle is our symbol. A solitary
people, devoted to peace, yet dangerous to any degree."
would have liked the yellow Gadsden flag with the motto, "Don’t
Tread on Me."
Garrett, the question was not whether Hitler was dangerous. That
was obvious, and Garrett argued that German militarism justified
a compensating military buildup. America had to get ready for a
possible war with Germany. The question was whether there was any
need to go to Europe and pick a fight with Germany.
the issue of Sept. 7, 1940, he wrote:
is going to put the German thing back? The British? They are not
we do it? Unless we are willing to go to Europe and destroy it
there, we may as well make our minds up now that we shall have
to live in the same world with it, maybe for a long time, whether
we like it or not. None the less, for that reason, only all the
more, we should, we must, create on this continent the incomparable
power of defense. After that we shall see. For after that we shall
be again what we were, safe and free and dangerous."
and free and dangerous. That is much different from the cowering
image one absorbs from the word "isolationist," which
is the word Roosevelt and the war party flung at people like Garrett
(and which is flung today upon LewRockwell.com).
idea was involvement by salami-slice. The first slice was that America
should help the British and French by measures greater than words
but "short of war." That came early in 1939, the last
year of European peace. To Garrett, this was taking sides in a war
about to erupt. If we would take sides, we would get drawn in. Also,
the policy was Roosevelt’s personally, done as a challenge to Congress
to do anything about it. Today’s reader might say, "Of course
war is the President’s policy." But the republican tradition
was stronger then.
Wrote Garrett in April 1939, of Roosevelt:
cannot declare war. Only the Congress can do that. Nevertheless,
he can, if he is so minded, provoke war. He can create situations
and entanglements such as to make war inevitable."
is what Roosevelt proceeded to do. One of his most famous moves
was on Sept. 2,1940, two months after the fall of France, when,
without asking Congress, he gave the British government 50 destroyers
from the U.S. Navy. In exchange he got the use of British military
bases in Canada and the Caribbean.
responded in the Oct. 12, 1940, Saturday Evening Post:
short of war. What, at first, did you understand that formula
to mean? That England and France should have access to the private
industrial resources of the United States, which would be internationally
lawful, would not involve the Government at all, and would be
still a tremendous advantage to the Allies, with Germany blockaded?
But your Government understood it to mean much more than that;
the British government understood it to mean much more...
you see what else your Government does. As it leads the country
to war, saying it will keep it out, it tells you only what it
thinks it will be good for you to know, and cannot always afford
to tell you the truth, because you may not have been enough accustomed
to the idea. As, for example, when the news was out that your
Government was negotiating with Great Britain for air and navy
bases on the fringe of this hemisphere, it told you that this
had nothing whatever to do with the fifty destroyers for which
the British had put forth a great propaganda in this country.
Simply, that was not so."
November 1940 came the national election, Franklin Roosevelt versus
Wendell Willkie. It was a fine time for a democracy to offer the
people a choice between peace or war, but it did not do that. It
offered two candidates who were eager to be involved but unable
to say so. Roosevelt brazenly lied, promising to keep the nation
at peace. Garrett recounts how the propaganda for involvement diminished
almost to zero before the election, only to come roaring back immediately
afterward. Before he could be sworn in for a third term, Roosevelt
announced that Britain had run out of credit, and that America’s
security required legislation that would grant him the power to
give any amount of military supplies to any country he wanted.
was Lend-Lease. To Garrett it was the real declaration of war, and
when it was enacted in March 1941, he flatly said that the argument
about whether to go to war was over.
the issue of March 29, 1941, he wrote:
have broken with our past. We have thrown away our New World,
our splendid isolation, our geographical advantage of three to
one against all aggressors, our separate political religion. There
is no longer a New World, nor an Old World, but now one world
in which the American people have been cast for a part they will
have to learn as they go along.
is no longer a Monroe Doctrine. In place of it there is an American
Internationalism. We do not yet know what this means.
now on for us there is no foreign war. Any war anywhere in the
world is our war, provided only there is an aggressor to be destroyed,
a democracy to be saved or an area of freedom to be defended."
defining the war as being for freedom that is, for an ideology
rather than the homeland America, he wrote, would "assume
a role in which it must either go on and on until it has gained
moral hegemony of the whole world or fail."
hegemony of the whole world. That was a new thought in the spring
in June 1941, came the German attack on Russia. Then it was no longer
a question of aid to Winston Churchill’s Britain but aid also to
Joseph Stalin’s Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
what would that mean? If Stalin prevailed over Hitler, Garrett wrote
in the issue of Nov. 8, 1941, "Soviet Russia, in that case,
would be the paramount land power of Europe.
should we do about that? Having saved the world from Nazism, should
we not be morally obligated to go on and save it from Bolshevism?"
this was written and published before Pearl Harbor.
is fitting that Defend America First is published by the
Caxton Press of Caldwell, Idaho, which used to publish many libertarian
and Old Right books, including Garrett’s most famous essays, "The
Revolution Was" (1944), "Ex America" (1951) and "Rise
of Empire" (1952), and the collection of those three essays
People’s Pottage (1953).
libertarians, who have old Caxton books on their shelves, assumed
the publisher must have gone out of business. It is still there,
as may be verified at www.caxtonpress.com. As Caxton’s ownership
passed through various members of the Gipson family, its management
lost interest in political books, and, apart from Ayn Rand’s Anthem,
which has been a constant money-maker, and a couple of others, the
offerings have tended to frontier tales, ghost towns, Indian stories
and other Western Americana. The company’s young leader, Scott Gipson,
has an interest in political books, and is cautiously entering the
field again. Following Salvos
the New Deal, Defend America First is the second
Ramsey [send him mail]
is a journalist in Seattle.
© 2003 LewRockwell.com