Did Isolationism Cause World War II?
McCain Plays the Hitler Card
by Phil Duffy
three staples of presidential campaigns are lying statistics, hollow
promises and personal attacks. Done skillfully and unemotionally,
the smear tactic can achieve success; thoughtlessly and in a fit
of anger, it generally turns on the attacker, revealing him as unfit
for office. We saw such a moment in the November 28 YouTube Presidential
Debate when Senator John McCain berated Congressman Ron Paul for
his supposed aid and comfort to this nation’s enemy.
McCain may have achieved a knockout blow against Mitt Romney, whom
he lectured for failure to acknowledge waterboarding as a form of
torture. Unfortunately, this victory was more than offset by a low-blow
attack on Congressman Paul that reveals a shallow and distorted
knowledge of American history.
started when Senator McCain moved off target on a question about
eliminating the income tax in favor of a national sales tax. McCain
quickly responded that he opposed that proposal and then proceeded
to what had to be on his mind the whole evening:
I just want to also say that Congressman Paul, I've heard
him now in many debates talk about bringing our troops home, and
about the war in Iraq and how it's failed.
And I want
to tell you that that kind of isolationism, sir, is what caused
World War II. We allowed...
Allow him his answer. Allow him his answer, please.
We allowed – we allowed Hitler to come to power with that kind
of attitude of isolationism and appeasement.
Anderson Cooper allowed Ron Paul 30 seconds to respond:
Absolutely. The real question you have to ask is why do I get
the most money from active duty officers and military personnel?
is saying is just totally distorted.
He doesn't even understand the difference between non-intervention
and isolationism. I'm not an isolationism, (shakes head) em, isolationist.
I want to trade with people, talk with people, travel. But I don't
want to send troops overseas using force to tell them how to live.
We would object to it here and they're going to object to us over
The media seems
to have fixated on this part of the debate and ignored its relationship
with later McCain comments. Ron Paul had described his position
on our occupation of Iraq, which was to return the control of the
country to the Iraqis:
The best commitment we can make to the Iraqi people is to give
them their country back. That's the most important thing that
we can do.
a legitimate opportunity to respond, but the actual content of his
comments reveal more than his opposition to Ron Paul’s views:
Well, let me remind you, Congressman, we never lost a battle in
Vietnam. It was American public opinion that forced us to lose
pot shots – one at "isolationists," the other at a weak-kneed
public – can be analyzed separately, but they have more meaning
when taken together.
American Isolationism Cause Hitler to Come to Power?
historian has been willing to make such a simplistic and senseless
case in public. One of the most comprehensive histories of the Nazi
era was written by William
L. Shirer, a journalist assigned to Germany during the period
when the Nazis came to power. The
Rise and Fall of the Third Reich covers 1,143 pages, the
first 276 of which describe the multiple forces and events that
led to the rise of Hitler. American isolationism is not once mentioned
in that section of the book.
The next 594
pages describe the beginning of World War II up to the point at
which Hitler declared war on the United States as a result of "Adolph
Hitler’s reckless promise to Japan …." It was Japan’s attack
of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 that brought the United States
into World War II. Germany
and Italy declared war on the United States four days later.
America’s disastrous foray into World War I, there were strong feelings
in the United States about remaining outside of the European conflict.
The newly formed America
First Committee was the most visible and vocal example of that
sentiment. Shirer dedicates a single paragraph to the role
of American isolationism at the beginning of Chapter 25, "The
Turn of the United States." He also mentions the role of Charles
Lindbergh as the leading public isolationist in a footnote on Page
827. Otherwise, there are no references to American isolationism
in this extensive work about this period.
So if William
Shirer virtually dismissed the importance of American isolationism
in causing World War II, what does he have to say about the real
causes of the rise of Adolph Hitler and World War II? Shirer points
out that a number of causes and events contributed, including:
political, social and cultural devastation following World War
I (especially the Weimar hyperinflation from 19181923, the
Wall Street-debt-financed boom of the late 1920s, and the Great
Depression of the 1930s)
- A disastrous
peace treaty at Versailles, including reparations to the allied
powers considered unjust by the German people
- The bitter
struggle between international socialism (the Communists) and
national socialism (the Nazis)
of other European nations to appropriately defend themselves
- The "stab
in the back" myth that anti-war Germans during World War
I had given virtual aid and comfort to the enemy on the home front
while the valiant solders fought to defend the Fatherland (the
birth and growth of this myth is addressed extensively in Chapter
2, "Birth of the Nazi Party")
opinion, the ‘stab in the back’ fallacy was a primary cause of the
rise of Hitler: "Thus emerged for Hitler, as for so many Germans,
a fanatical belief in the legend of the ‘stab in the back’ which,
more than anything else, was to undermine the Weimar Republic and
pave the way for Hitler’s ultimate triumph." (Page 31)
30, 1933 Hitler was appointed chancellor
of a coalition government in Germany. The America First Committee
was formed September 4, 1940. Clearly, isolationism in the United
States had nothing to do with Hitler’s rise to power.
Difference between Isolationism and Non-Interventionism
In one sense,
there was a shred of truth to McCain’s attack on "isolationism,"
which combines military non-intervention with economic self-reliance
and protectionism. In June 1930, Herbert Hoover signed into law
the infamous Smoot-Hawley
Tariff Act over the objections of 1,028 prominent economists.
From 1929 to 1933, an increasingly autarkic German economy saw imports
and exports plunge 66% and 61% respectively, while GDP was cut in
half. Clearly, the politics of economic isolationism in both the
U.S. and Germany helped pave the way for Hitler’s arrival
to Wikipedia, isolationism is "not to be confused with the
philosophy and foreign policy of the libertarian
world view, which espouses unrestricted free
trade and freedom of travel for individuals to all countries."
Ron Paul falls solidly into the non-interventionist camp, yet McCain
failed to make this distinction.
Doctrine of Preventive War
McCain is claiming
that the circumstances leading to World War II and those that led
to our invasion of Iraq are identical. Ron Paul is claiming that
conditions are very different. In World War II, Hitler declared
war on the United States and then we responded by declaring
war on Germany. Is McCain suggesting that we should have preemptively
struck Germany as we have struck Iraq without the formal declaration
of war that Article
I, Section 8 of the Constitution requires?
Dwight D. Eisenhower,
who served as Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Europe during
WWII, was quite clear on this issue:
war was an invention of Hitler. Frankly, I would not even listen
to anyone seriously who talked about such a thing."
As a result
of WWII, the Nuremburg
Principles further codified what constitutes a war crime under
the Geneva Convention. Principle VI: "Planning, preparation,
initiation or waging of a war
of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties,
agreements or assurances." Imagine, during the YouTube debate,
McCain had the gall to castigate Mitt Romney for tossing aside the
Geneva Convention when it came to torture!
Ron Paul warned
about preventive war on September 4, 2002, six months before the
U.S. invaded Iraq:
force is only justified in self-defense; naked aggression is the
province of dictators and rogue states. This is the danger of
a new ‘preemptive first strike’ doctrine."
WWII Isolationists Traitors?
It is easy,
with the benefit of hindsight, to fault the views held by the so-called
isolationists and the America First Committee, but the point is
that those people were voicing a responsible position that was completely
consistent with the views of the founders of this nation (peace,
commerce and friendship with all and non-intervention in the internal
affairs of other nations). The America First Committee quickly dissolved
after our declaration of war with Germany as this nation unified
against the Axis Powers. Many so-called isolationists served in
the armed services of the United States, and of these a significant
number were disabled or gave their lives for their country. Of the
survivors, at least three rose to national prominence – Gerald
Shriver and future Supreme Court justice Potter
Stewart. In 1941 Americans could still oppose war and yet come
together quickly when this nation was actually under attack.
A more likely case can be made that "that kind of isolationism"
actually preserved America’s strength, allowing it to enter the
war when it could be most effective, and when America’s losses could
be minimized. Indeed, the two readily recognized turning points
in the struggle with Nazi Germany are the Battle
of Stalingrad (August 21, 1942 to February 2, 1943) and El
Alamein (October 23, 1942 to November 5, 1942). American troops
were not seriously committed against Nazi forces until Operation
Torch, the joint invasion of French North Africa by the British
and Americans, which began November 8, 1942. Nazi Germany was already
on the defensive when we hit the beaches in North Africa.
Never Lost a Battle in Vietnam"
comment is simply silly. It is common knowledge that it is possible
to win battles and lose wars, as Ron Paul alluded to in the debate.
That is what guerilla warfare is all about. Mao Tse-Tung formalized
the rules for guerilla warfare for the Chinese Communists in On
Guerilla Warfare. But there is little that he revealed that
was not already common practice in our own War of Independence from
the British. Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown was, to a large
degree, attributable to earlier guerilla operations by Daniel
Morgan and Francis
"The Swamp Fox" Marion. Even the first encounter with
the British at Concord was characterized by guerilla operations.
The British employed conventional warfare, much as we did in Vietnam.
But we won against Britain, then the greatest military force on
the face of the earth. Unfortunately, we did not apply the lesson
of our own history in Vietnam.
Public Opinion Caused the U.S. to Lose in Vietnam
stated this in such a way that it would be less harsh for his American
audience. How do you appeal to voters if at the same time you are
telling them that they and their parents gave aid and comfort to
the enemy and betrayed their own armed forces?
has any knowledge of the causes of Hitler’s rise to power will recognize
this as the infamous "stab in the back" rationalization
heavily emphasized by William Shirer in The Rise and Fall of
the Third Reich.
The truth is
that public opinion turned against the Vietnam War just as it did
against the War in Iraq – when the lies and corruption were revealed.
That is a luxury that we enjoy in the United States thanks to representative
government, free press, free assembly and free speech. Perhaps McCain
is arguing for the suspension of those freedoms because "we
are at war." Is that so? Why then didn’t Senator McCain and
most of his associates in the Congress vote for a real declaration
of war as the Constitution requires?
Does All of This Mean?
When the facts
above are weighed, most Americans will recognize that Senator McCain’s
behavior toward Congressman Paul was nothing more than a cheap shot.
By attempting to shut off all discussion on the merits of the War
in Iraq, he pandered to the emotions of the crowd and a misguided
sense of patriotism. He exploited a general ignorance of history
and economics, and a debate format that rewards spin over substance.
He tried to stifle those rights that are derived from the natural
law of which the first paragraph of the Declaration
of Independence speaks.
But is all
of that really important? Shouldn’t we sacrifice our liberty in
the hope of gaining some additional safety? Shouldn’t we place our
faith in the chief executive feeling that he or she will always
act in our best interest? Once committed to war, shouldn’t we follow
through until the "enemy" is defeated?
upon how we value our liberty.
In a sense,
Senator McCain’s behavior in St. Petersburg was understandable if
not excusable. No one can truly appreciate what another human being
has been through, and that is particularly true of a person who
has suffered from incarceration and torture as Senator McCain has.
But on that stage there were six other Republican men aspiring to
the presidency, as well as CNN’s moderator. None of these stepped
forward to defend Congressman Paul from McCain’s mean-spirited attack.
None defended Ron Paul’s right to free speech. Thus the issue of
the character of the candidates was placed squarely before the electorate.
Do you see
what I see? I see a lonely American on that stage in Saint Petersburg.
I see him smeared by a fellow countryman who accuses him of virtually
giving aid and comfort to the enemy. I hear the applause of the
attacker’s supporters. I see six other men on that stage all supporting
the attack through their silence. I see a moderator representing
the free press, a man whose role requires him to enforce fairness
– even encouraging the attacker. I see millions of fellow Americans
viewing this spectacle remotely.
Do you see
what I see? I see America on trial.
Duffy [send him mail]
served as an Armor officer (Reserve) between 1956 and 1958.
He was assigned to the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment which was responsible
for border patrol on the East/West German border immediately after
the Hungarian Revolution. He is a life-long student of history who
is particularly fascinated by the Nazi Era. Duffy is currently a
software developer in West Chester, Pennsylvania.
© 2007 LewRockwell.com