On the 80th Anniversary of Hilaire Belloc’s, The Crusades
Review: Hilaire Belloc: The Crusades: The World’s Debate, Bruce Publishing Company, Milwaukee, 1937; Republished Tan Books: Rockford, Illinois, 1992.
As millions of Muslim refugees continue to swarm mostly unopposed into Europe’s heartland, it would be instructive to review Hilaire Belloc’s book, The Crusades: The World’s Debate. Written eighty years ago, the work not only gives a unique analysis of the Crusading Era, but addresses what remains today a fundamental issue in global politics, hence, the subtext of the book, The World’s Debate.
The Crusades were inspired by the Catholic Church and Papacy which rightly saw the threat that Islam posed to the West and encouraged military action to counter it. The Mohammedans had taken over vast parts of the eastern half of the Roman Empire and with it control of the Holy Land which they increasingly made tougher to access for pilgrims.
The Novus Ordo Church and its current pope have repeatedly encouraged Muslim migration into Europe and have scolded those who raise even the tiniest of protests against this orchestrated event with smears of “lack of charity,” “intolerance,” and “xenophobic” among other denigrations. Such action would have been considered heretical by the Crusaders and the popes of the past who called and helped organize the expeditions. In fact, one does not have to go back that far to know that “Pope Francis’” pro-immigration stance would have been considered treasonous a little over a half century ago. Under the radical changes that occurred at the Second Vatican Anti-Council (1962-65), however, acceptance of false religions and heretical sects are now part of the New Creed.
For Western man, the migrant crisis has accentuated a more fundamental problem which threatens his ultimate survival – demographics. European birthrates have plunged to unsustainable levels which, if trends continue, will mean, if not extinction, at least the marginalization of the white populations, the institutions and cultures which those peoples have built. Most analysts of the demographic implosion and migrant crises, however, do not see that their source is ultimately a religious struggle. The unwanted migratory invasion and the failure of Europeans to reproduce to at least replacement levels are the result of Western man’s rejection of the One True Faith.
The alarming demographic trends had not yet surfaced when Belloc penned The Crusades although the start of another global conflagration was on the horizon as the West would once again plunged itself into civilization suicide with the outbreak of World War II. Nor had the state of Israel been created at the time of its publication, although the troubling Balfour Doctrine had been mandated which would eventually lead to a Zionist homeland in Palestine and the creation of the state of Israel which would become a constant source of conflict in the decades that followed.
For Belloc, “the world’s debate” centered on the conflict between the future of a militarily and economically dominant secularized West against a religiously fervent, although economically stagnant, Islam. To this day, the West still holds these advantages, but its vibrancy and spirit are on the wane due to its abandonment of the Faith and the adoption of social democracy.
The Crusades were an expression of Christendom’s highest ideals which contemporary Europeans could not hope to grasp or understand. If the West is ever going to defeat Islam, it must be spiritually revitalized which can only come about if the Church becomes once again Catholic and overthrows neo-Modernism which it adopted at Vatican II. Military victories will never be lasting unless they are backed by a religiously committed populace.
Belloc takes a unique perspective on a number of aspects of the Crusading Era which differ, in some cases, quite significantly from most modern scholarship. Almost all contemporary historians are of the school of thought that the Crusades lasted until at least the campaign of 1295 (the Fourth Crusade) while some, like the late J. Riley Smith, see “crusading activity” going well beyond that time. For Belloc, the First Crusade from its “calling” in 1095 by Pope Urban II, to its improbable and truly miraculous capture of Jerusalem in 1099, was the most important. It not only accomplished its odds-defying goal of freeing the Holy Land for pilgrimage, but in its wake the Latin Kingdoms were established in the Levant.
With the view that only the First Crusade mattered, since it accomplished its objectives, the vast majority of the book covers the years between 1095 and 1187 as Belloc asserts:
There was . . . but one Crusade . . . it was the
great breaking out of all western Europe into
the Orient for the rescue of the Holy Sepulchre,
and within one very long lifetime it had failed;
For with Jerusalem in the hands of the Infidel
the purpose of the original great campaign was
gone, its fruits were lost. 
Everything that came in the wake of the first Christian triumph in Asia Minor was something different:
That historical episode, 1095-1187, was the true
Crusade, from its inception to its final failure. All
that followed was of another kind. 
Yet, within their initial success, the seed of the Latin Kingdoms’ ultimate downfall was laid. While other factors certainly played a role, Belloc, over and over again, stresses the crusaders’ failure to secure Damascus that proved fatal and would eventually allow the Mohammedans to re-conquer and end the Latin presence in the Levant. Without Damascus, the later expeditions were never a serious threat to the Muslim strongholds and were in the historian’s words “rearguard action[s] of a defeat.” 
While the West failed to hold and extend the First Crusade’s success and later having suffered the tragic fall of Constantinople, it would eventually return and reclaim most of what it had lost. The Muslim victory at Hattin appeared permanent until the end of time; yet within a few centuries, during which Europe had repelled several lethal Islamic assaults to its heartland, it returned to the Middle East, but this time the conquerors were of a different breed religiously.
The ending of Muslim rule and the colonization of the Middle East throughout the course of the 19th century up to the time of Belloc’s book (1937) was accomplished by a secularized West under the guidance and inspiration of religiously pluralistic nation states. Christendom had long been dissolved and although the Middle East’s new overlords were superior in resources, technology, and skill their religious vitality was on the wane and would continue to evaporate as the years rolled on. “We have returned to the Levant,” Belloc writes, “we have returned apparently more as masters than ever we were during the struggle of the Crusades – but we have returned bankrupt in that spiritual wealth which was the glory of the Crusades. . . . [N]or is the Levant held as one whole [Christian dominion], but divided between separate nations to whom the unity of Europe has ceased to be sacred.” 
In the modern era of Political Correctness, one can no longer speak of race, ethnicity, kinship, or “blood” unless one is disparaging Occidental people or their ancestors while at the same time trumpeting the virtues of the assorted brown and colored peoples of the globe. Not so with Belloc, who was far from alone among historians of his generation who understood the significance of race and blood in the episodes of the human past and how important these factors were in the creation of societies and civilizations.
To scholars like Belloc, race and religion did matter, and in his view it was a significant reason why the Crusades ultimately failed to hold their possessions. Of course, there were other factors that Belloc duly notes – the failure to control the strategically vital city of Damascus; the lack of reinforcements both in arms and people from the West; the refusal of Byzantium to ally with the Crusaders; the lack of a strong monarchy in the Latin states. Race, however, in this instance, the mixture of French blood with the local population, was critical in the eventual defeat. The “mixing of blood” between the Franks and the Near East population especially among the leadership proved fatal. Few, if any academics of today could write such things.
The miscegenation among the nobility and the subsequent generations in the newly formed Latin jurisdictions proved to be “inferior” in talent, ability, and leadership to build the type of society necessary for the Crusaders’ initial victories to be turned into a permanent civilization.
A stark example of this among the nobility can be seen in the loss of Edessa:
We have seen among other causes the mixture of Western
with Oriental blood, especially in the case of the rulers,
played a chief part. Now, it was precisely to this that the
first of the great disasters was due. [T]he loss of Edessa. . .
was mainly due to the character of its ruler, the second
Jocelyn. . . The mother of the second Jocelyn was an
Armenian. . . . [T]he mixture of blood did here what it
so often does; it gave a certain brilliance to the character
of the second generation, but that brilliance was accompanied
by instability. 
[I]t must be emphasized, for it underlay not
only the tragedy of Edessa but all that followed,
up to the loss of Jerusalem itself. . . . it was Jocelyn
the Second, who with his contemporary, the
half breed Queen Melisande, so conspicuously
typifies that new and too-sudden mixtures of races
which was largely responsible for the catastrophe. 
Outnumbered and with inferior leadership qualities compared to the first wave of Crusaders, the Latin Kingdoms were eventually doomed especially after the Muslims had politically united. Yet, had the Western kings and princes addressed this matter, things may have been different and, as Belloc maintains, the Infidel may have been permanently relegated to the Arabian Peninsula.
 Jorge Bergoglio cannot be head of the Catholic Church for several reasons: (1) he is a manifest heretic whose seemingly endless string of heretical acts, words, and “teachings” disqualify him for the post – a heretic is necessarily outside the Church; (2) Bergoglio is not a “priest” on “technical grounds,” but was “ordained” in the invalid Novus Ordo rite of orders which came into being at the time of Vatican II. Nor is he a bishop since he was also “consecrated” under these non-Catholic rites. Only the bishop of Rome can become pope and since Bergoglio is neither a priest or bishop, he cannot, therefore, be pope.
[2} Jonathan Riley-Smith, The Crusades: A History. 3rd ed., London: Bloomsbury, 1987; 2014.
 While Belloc does not stress it, the First Crusade was aided by heavenly intervention which has been attested to by the Crusaders as well as modern secular historians in their narratives. See, Thomas Asbridge, The First Crusade: A New History, (Oxford: University Press, 2004).
To be continued…
Review: Charles A. Beard, American Foreign Policy in the Making, 1932-1940: A Study in Responsibilities. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1946.
*This essay is dedicated to the late Charlie McGrath of Wide Awake News.
Last year, 2016, marked the 70th anniversary of the publication of Charles Beard’s masterful study of United States foreign policy prior to the nation’s disastrous entrance into the Second World War, American Foreign Policy in the Making1932-1940: A Study in Responsibilities(AFPM). The book was soon accompanied by President Roosevelt and the Coming of the War, 1941 published in 1948, the year of the great historian’s passing.
The two volumes were extremely influential and became cornerstones of World War II revisionism. AFPM chronicled US policy in the crucial decade prior to the fateful attack at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The records released and the research done in the decades following Beard’s studies have only substantiated the historian’s interpretation of events.*
The most recent of the growing literature of WWII revisionism has been by the German historian Gerd Schultze-Rhonhof, and his provocative book, The War That Had Many Fathers.** As Beard did with AFPM, Schultze-Rhonhof seeks to assign responsibility for the outbreak of WWII in the European theatre. Like Beard, and in contrast to the official historical interpretation, Schultze-Rhonhof blames the provocative actions of the “Allied” governments in the years leading up to the conflict.***
World War II
By any objective rendering, for Western Civilization, WWII was an unmitigated catastrophe whose reverberations continue to this day. Forty three million troops were senselessly killed between American, British and Continental forces while 38 million civilians perished. Europe’s current demographic nightmare had its unfruitful seeds cut down with the depopulation of the Continent’s finest for the maniacal aims of the world’s power elites. Not only the loss of life, but the destruction of property and the cultures upon which they were built have been incalculable.
Although the US emerged in the post-war world as the dominant economic and political power (as its mainland remained unscathed from wartime destruction), its participation in the conflict was a titanic geopolitical blunder. The defeat of Germany and Japan, which would have not come about without US military might, left vast power vacuums in Eastern Europe and the Far East that Soviet Russia and Red China ruthlessly filled. Half of Europe would fall behind the Iron Curtain, subjected to fierce political repression and debilitating socialistic economic planning. In the Far East, Communist regimes sprang up with the assistance of China and the Soviet Union which America attempted to counter in Korea and Vietnam at a staggering cost to its domestic economy and social tranquility.
Even after the fall of Soviet Communism, the US’s supposed lethal enemy, America maintained its empire as its “defense” spending continued to escalate beyond all reasonable levels which has led, in part, to the decline of domestic living standards of nearly all except, of course, for the politically well-connected.
Not only has military adventurism bankrupted the country, but there is now “blowback” from the countless enemies either real, imagined, or contrived created by US overseas meddling. Moreover, the nation’s military industrial and security complex has turned on its own citizens with spying, surveillance, and data gathering that would be the envy of Stalin’s Cheka.
Yet, it was US participation in WWII which cemented the nation on its ruinous course as global policeman. This was predicted and feared by Charles Beard and other perceptive minds which is why they fought so courageously to keep the country neutral.
Naturally, Beard’s criticism of FDR’s bellicose foreign policy and the historian’s position that he had deliberately provoked the Japanese to attack led Beard to be ostracized by the historical profession which, by and large, had been converted to internationalism by the 1930s. To his credit, Beard had left academia long before and made his way financially from his voluminous writings. Nevertheless, he was smeared by the historical profession and much of the Establishment press with the usual charges, or was mostly ignored. Despite his isolationist views, however, his seminal book on the Constitution remained in widespread use.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Charles Beard meticulously chronicles the events and policy decisions which led to US entry into WWII with nearly all the focus on the actions and words of the most important figure which brought it about: Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It is FDR, in Beard’s view, who bears ultimate responsibility – hence the subtext of the book, “A Study in Responsibilities” – for American foreign policy which would eventually lead the nation into the second global conflagration of the 20thcentury.
Despite nuancing his foreign policy views for political gain, FDR remained a convinced “Wilsonsian internationalist” throughout his life. While he may have sublimated his position for public office (during the 1932 and 1940 presidential campaigns), FDR stayed true to a globalist mindset. US entry into WWII could have only come about by one who was a determined interventionist who wanted America to become a world power against, as Beard and others have shown, the explicit will of the vast majority of his fellow citizens who wanted no part of the conflict. It is thus FDR who bears primary responsibility for America’s entrance into the war which could have been avoided had the US taken a more reasonable and less belligerent stance in its foreign policy toward the Axis Powers especially Japan.
The deep disillusionment which followed WWI among the initial belligerents was shared by the American public despite not having suffered the devastation that the European powers had endured. The skepticism over why the country entered the war in the first place and the determination not to do so again was the main reason why America refused to become part of the League of Nations. Americans rightly feared that US participation in the League would drag the nation into needless conflicts which were not in the country’s best interest. For their insistence on joining the League, Woodrow Wilson and the Democratic Party would be punished by the American electorate as the Republicans would control both Congress and the White House throughout the 1920s.
After the 1924 election, it was clear to any aspiring Democratic politician that if electoral success was to be secured, Wilsonian internationalism had to be dropped or expressed in a different fashion. FDR would come to this realization and by the 1932 election had distanced himself far enough from his ideological mentor (Woodrow Wilson) that he would be palatable to an “isolationist” electorate.
Had it not, however, been for the Stock Market Crash, the ensuing Depression, and Herbert Hoover’s ill-advised and idiotic economic policies which made the initial financial downturn far worse, FDR, despite mitigating his earlier interventionist views, would not have been elected. The good will that the Republicans had generated by staying out of the League and pursuing an “isolationist” foreign policy was in step with the American people’s wishes.
As the financial crisis deepened, the 1932 Presidential election became a referendum on the economic policies of the Hoover Administration while foreign policy played a minor role. Even with deteriorating financial conditions and Hoover’s inability to turn things around, FDR still had to receive monetary backing and favorable press treatment especially from the powerful William Randolph Hearst and his publishing syndicate. Hearst was, however, an American Firster and thus leery of FDR’s past views. For an endorsement, the publishing magnate had to be convinced of the sincerity of the future President’s stance.
The shrewd New York Governor, of course, understood this and throughout the campaign spoke against formal US involvement in the League or any other collective security arrangement and argued that fixing the domestic economy would be the first priority of his Administration. As the campaign wore on, Hearst became convinced and in a self-penned editorial formally endorsed FDR. Not only could FDR be trusted to keep the US out of foreign entanglements, but he believed that the Democratic nominee had the right policies to fix the nation’s economic woes. History would prove Hearst wrong on both points.
Roosevelt’s First Term, 1933-1937
Attempts at economic recovery would dominate FDR’s first Presidential term as war clouds began to darken over European and Asiatic skies. The President maintained his anti-League stance although the US worked along informal lines with the organization as Republican Administrations had previously done. When global disputes or actual armed conflicts broke out, FDR called for peace and asserted US neutrality. Typical was his response to the Italian-Ethiopian dispute in 1935: “I wish to voice the hope of the people and the Government of the United States that an amicable solution will be found and that peace will be maintained.” When the war broke out he declared: “This Government is determined not to become involved in the controversy and is anxious for the restoration and maintenance of peace.”
Even when there were no overseas quarrels to respond to, FDR forcefully reiterated his Administration’s foreign policy stance which reflected the desires of the nation’s Founders:
In the face of this apprehension the American people can have but one concern – the American people can speak but one sentiment: despite what happens in continents overseas, the United States of America shall and must remain, as long ago the Father of our Country prayed that it might remain – unentangled and free. This country seeks no conquest. We have no imperial designs. From day to day and year to year, we are establishing a more perfect assurance of peace with our neighbors. . . . We not only earnestly desire peace, but we are moved by a stern determination to avoid those perils that will endanger our peace with the world.[166-67]
America, at this time, was in no mood for any overseas military adventurism or participation with any international organization which might lead into a conflict. A good example of how fierce public isolationist sentiment ran can be seen in the debate over whether the nation should become a member of the World Court which had always been a cherished goal of the internationalists.
In January, 1935 FDR urged the Senate to pass legislation that would make the country a member of the Court although the resolutions that were proposed, in Beard’s words, “had been diluted until they contained no words that could possibly impair the sovereignty of the United States.” Despite pressure from FDR and other prominent politicos and organizations, the bill went down to defeat against a “storm of opposition” led, in part by the gallant Father Charles E. Coughlin and William Randolph Hearst.
Roosevelt’s Second Term, 1937-1940
After the landslide victory over the hapless Alfred Landon, the beginning of FDR’s 2nd presidential term, and nearly all of 1937 was focused on the economy and his attempt to alter the Supreme Court in order to pass the more radical (socialistic) aspects of the New Deal. Foreign policy, except for one stark and ominous episode, was not a factor.
Despite four years of the New Deal’s collectivist attempt to bring the economy back, a severe, and what a number of economists contend was an even worse downturn than had occurred under Herbert Hoover, began in the summer of 1937. Beard quotes a financial analyst’s assessment of economic conditions at the time:
During the next three months, however, following August, the market experienced a decline which can only be described as a collapse. The decline in [stock] prices during September, October and November was not only drastic but also general in its application to all groups of stocks. In fact there are few instances on record where a larger percentage decline has occurred within so short a period of time as three months. . . . Adverse new piled up so plentifully during the last three quarters of 1937 as to undermine the confidence of the investment and speculative community.[177-78]
Not only the stock and financial markets, but the entire economy was in a dramatic tailspin:
Labor unrest of serious proportions confronted nearly all of the nation’s basic industries, and resulted in widespread disorganization in production as well as huge financial loss to all concerned. [ 178]
Another round of bleak financial data was a considerable blow to the prestige of the President and his celebrated “Brain Trust” who had confidently predicted that they had the answers to solve the nation’s economic woes. As Beard writes: “In its range the shock of the economic collapse was startling to President Roosevelt and his advisers. . . . Doubts came to the President and his counselors: perhaps they had been wrong in seeking recovery through the specific measures they had espoused and were at the end of their improvisation.” Furthermore, Congress’ refusal to go along with FDR’s “court-packing plan” effectively ended any further expansion of the New Deal and by the fall of 1937 “the outlook for the New Deal was discouraging and the discouragement affected all the Administration circles in Washington. The grand dream of 1933 no longer inspired unwavering optimism even among loyal Democrats.”[Ibid.]
A number of historians have contended that the failure to alleviate the nation’s enormous economic problems was the primary factor as to why the US eventually entered WWII. With his economic policies failing and blocked by Congress from even greater largesse, it would seem plausible that FDR would look at foreign affairs to distract the public. In October of 1937 this clearly seemed the case.
Although the economy was imploding, when the topic of foreign policy came up, there was no change in the President’s commitment to nonintervention. This, however, was abruptly ended in a speech given on October 5, 1937 in Chicago which ever since has become known as the “quarantine speech.” “[T]he President delivered,” as Beard describes, “in a tone of decisive solemnity, an address on the world situation in which he discarded the doctrine of neutrality for the United States and espoused the idea of collective security – the cardinal principle of internationalism.”
He [FDR] spoke with feeling about the ‘present reign of terror and international lawlessness,’ forecast more frightful scenes, declared that in such circumstances America could not expect mercy or escape from attack, and called for united action against aggressors on the part of the 90 per cent of the world’s population that cherished peace, freedom, and security.[Ibid]
As expected, the internationalists welcomed the speech as they believed that FDR “had at last spurned, in the name of the United States, the principle of non-entanglement and non-intervention in the political and military operations of European and Asiatic powers . . . .” Isolationists were outraged and argued that FDR was going back on his vow of neutrality and that he “was trying to divert attention from his domestic ‘mistakes’ by raising war scares.”[Ibid]
Apparently, FDR and his Administration were taken back by the tremendous uproar that the Chicago address evoked not only at home, but throughout the world. The President refused to elaborate on it in the weeks afterward and would only speak “off the record” to journalists with ambiguous and often confusing responses to their queries.
It is doubtful that FDR was that surprised about the reaction to the quarantine speech. A savvy politician such as Roosevelt was, no doubt, aware of the staunch non-interventionist mood of the country and understood the response that it would engender. His refusal to explain it further in the context of his previous policy statements about keeping America neutral was probably a calculated move. Maybe a trial balloon?
While the quarantine speech gave hope to the war mongers, it did little to sway public opinion or move the noninterventionists. “As a rule,” Beard remarked, “members of the anti-war bloc maintained that there was no middle ground, that the United States could not depart from neutrality as recognized in international law without a definite risk of war, and that the quarantine doctrine, if actually applied, meant nothing more nor less than setting out on the road to war.”
Polls taken in the months leading up to the speech showed that three fourths of the people were against any overseas military operations and in April of 1937, 71% asked, thought that the nation’s participation in WWI was a mistake.
Despite the ire that the speech raised and the amount of ink that was spilled over it from interventionists and isolationists alike, there was no further talk of “quarantining aggressors” for the rest of the year:
. . . President Roosevelt made no public pronouncement and took no public action that indicated any change in the foreign policy he had expounded from February 2, 1932, to the day of the quarantine speech. Insofar as the outward signs of his thought and purposes were concerned, his foreign policy for the United States remained the same as it had been since 1932.
The following year continued on the same lines as the previous one without anything like the quarantine speech. While there was reference to FDR’s Chicago address in the press and in the halls of Congress, 1938 was an election year and internationalists, no doubt, understood that without the President’s willingness to give further elaboration on his remarks of the previous autumn, they would face political repercussions if they continued to push for US involvement overseas. Beard sums up the interventionists’ position in 1938:
From the point of view of internationalists, the pronouncements and actions of the Roosevelt Administration in respect of American foreign policy during the year 1938 were for practical purposes a total loss.
For Western man, 1939 ranks as one of the most disastrous of years. The start of another European bloodbath within a generation would continue his social, economic and political decline. US participation in both wars extended their length beyond the point that any reasonable settlement could be negotiated and guaranteed a far worse outcome for all involved.
It was the unjust terms of the Armistice at the conclusion of WWI which imposed huge financial reparations on Germany, the loss of its industrial territory in the West mainly to France, and, most troubling, the political re-configuration of Central and Eastern Europe that would lead to the exploitation of ethnic Germans residing in the artificially formed jurisdictions which would make WWII “inevitable.”
Yet, from American press coverage and from the tone of the Roosevelt Administration none of these inconvenient facts and considerations were ever fairly presented for public consumption. Instead, Hitler’s motives and moves to undo the harsh and politically untenable terms of the Versailles Treaty and to seek an equitable redress of the prevailing conditions were repeatedly described and reported as “aggression.”
One the other side, the “Godfearing democracies” were sympathetically portrayed as resisting aggression and their enemies, which would later include Italy and Japan, had no justification for their actions. Unfortunately, even the most ardent of isolationist succumbed to this distorted narrative which is why they ultimately failed in their efforts to keep the US neutral.
When hostilities actually broke out, the categorization of “democracies versus aggressors” became even more hardened and unyielding which contributed to a crucial shift in American foreign policy that allowed FDR even further latitude in foreign affairs.
The framing of the political situation in the late 1930s as one of aggressors versus freedom-loving democracies must be given credit to the intrepid machinations of the American and British popular press, academia, and organs of government. That one of the democracies, Great Britain, which had been in possession of one of the largest empires in human history, gained, in large measure, through aggression and that the US itself, which had brutally crushed a self-determination movement of a significant portion of its own people, could label other nations “aggressors,” was beyond all hypocrisy. Yet, none of this was spoken of by the press or policy makers who were all itching, no doubt, to get America involved in another overseas escapade that would swell their own power and prestige.
As negotiations between the European powers continued in futility and war seemed inevitable, debate in the US intensified about whether the nation’s neutrality laws and its munitions embargo should be altered. While bills and amendments were brought forth, the isolationist forces were able to prevent any change. And, had war not erupted in September1939, it is unlikely that the internationalists would have ever been able to amass enough political muscle to obtain their objective.
FDR and his supporters argued that a revision of the neutrality laws would better enable the President to conduct foreign policy and thus keep America at peace. The isolationists rightly countered that supplying arms and or financial aid to belligerents, nonetheless, would make the US a participant in the conflict even though there was no commitment of troops. The repeal of similar statutes during WWI was the main factor in bringing the US into the war in 1917.
The outbreak of the war in early 1939 gave FDR the political impetus to get the munitions embargo repealed, which Secretary of State Hull speciously argued, “will protect the neutrality, the safety and the integrity of our country and at the same time keep us out of wars.”
The non-interventionists responded that this same idea failed miserably to keep America at peace during WWI and should be rejected as Beard explains their position: “In opposition to certain modifications, especially the embargo repeal, it was avowed that they were steps on the road to war and that President Roosevelt, like Woodrow Wilson in 1917, was leading the country on the way to war.”
While FDR and the Administration remained adamant about keeping the US out of the war and although the nation’s neutrality laws had been strengthened, the die had been cast and America would eventually be drawn into the contest. An insightful British article written before the war had erupted pointed out that if the US abandoned its munitions embargo, it became a belligerent and accurately predicted it would become an “active” participant:
If war is actually precipitated, President Roosevelt will call a special session of Congress . . . and will seek the practically guaranteed repeal of the arms embargo . . . . The full economic, industrial, agricultural resources of the United States would then be at the disposal of Great Britain. . . though perhaps on a ‘cash and carry’ basis. How, when, or whether the United States would actually be drawn into the conflict is, naturally, a question that cannot be answered, but if one is estimating the probabilities they are that the history of 1914-17 would be foreshortened and repeated . . . the precise pattern of participation might be very different from that of 1917, but it might be none the less effective.[262-63]
While FDR and his supporters argued to the contrary, the repeal of the arms embargo in 1939 would put the US on the road to war, all that was needed was a provocation.
The 1940 Democratic convention met in Chicago and it was assumed that FDR would be nominated although it would break with the two-term limit tradition on presidential tenure. Like the Republicans, the Democrats well understood the mood of the country which remained decidedly against placing troops overseas although most favored aid to the “Allies.” Beard describes the prevailing mindset of most of the Democratic delegates: “Either on their own motion or in response to the demands of their constituents, a very large majority of the Democrats at Chicago shared this sentiment and were dead-set against any platform planks that would authorize actions on the part of the Federal Administration at all likely to eventuate in American participation in a foreign war.”
FDR, of course, was not happy with the more zealous anti-war Democratic contingent who wanted a far more forceful pledge and statement in the platform about keeping Americans from being deployed overseas. While the “strict non-interventionists” prevailed, the wily FDR offset their efforts with a “clincher.”
The clincher, or what became known as “the escape clause,” which was inserted into the platform was a pledge that the President would keep the country out of war except in case of attack. Anne O’Hare McCormick, who Beard quotes, perceptively commented that the word “attack” could “easily be extended to mean any assault on American interests, wherever it takes place.”
With the “escape clause,” his re-election a lock, and the repeal of the munitions embargo the year before, FDR had almost all he needed to bring the US into the conflict and turn it into a world war.
The 1940 Presidential Election
Ever since the 1896 Presidential election when the William Jennings Bryan forces captured control of the Democratic Party, which then abandoned the Party’s long-term commitment to the gold standard, laissez faire, and a non-interventionist foreign policy, and as the Republicans under William McKinley purged the crazed anti-gold zealots from their ranks, there has been little difference between the nation’s two dominant political parties. The 1940 election, once again, validated the case.
The election pitted a public utility lawyer, Wendell Willkie of Indiana, against FDR. Willkie had been a Democrat up until the year before the election. He had not run in any of the primaries and emerged as a compromise candidate picked by the party on the 6th ballot over more known and committed non-interventionists.
Willkie offered no real alternative on foreign policy. As Beard points out, Willkie had been an ardent supporter of Woodrow Wilson in which Willkie discovered his “first strong political ideology in devoted support of Wilson’s gallant but tragic fight for the League of Nations.” Throughout his career, he continually advocated that America join the League of Nations and declared that “only through such an instrumentality as the League could future wars be prevented.”
Willkie’s principle reason for breaking with the Democrats was opposition to the New Deal. Of course, it was not because Willkie was a laissez-faire ideologue, but it went against Willkie’s mentor, Woodrow Wilson’s “philosophy of government” and its principle of “economic individualism” whatever that term meant.
Willkie called for greater defense spending and agreed with efforts to support the “Allies” in every way short of sending troops overseas. None of Roosevelt’s provocative actions such as Lend-Lease were challenged by the Republican Presidential nominee nor did he try to link them to similar actions that FDR’s predecessor took which led the US into WWI. Willkie did not see that the steps taken by FDR, although not committing troops, still put the US on an unstoppable path to a military clash in either the Far East or the Atlantic.
In his convention acceptance speech, Willkie sounded little different than his Democratic rival and was, in fact, itching for a confrontation with the German Chancellor:
. . . we know that we are not isolated From those suffering people. . . . No man is so wise as to foresee what the future holds or to lay out a plan for it. No man can guarantee to maintain peace. . . .We must face a brutal but terrible fact. Our way of life is in competition with Hitler’s way of life. . . . I promise, by returning to those sam American principles that overcame German autocracy once before, both in business and in war, to outdistance Hitler in any contest he chooses in 1940 or after.
Despite public opposition to any overseas military involvement, if Willkie was somehow elected, America would sooner or later find itself in an armed conflict with a nation that had not threatened it, or its citizens with any harm:
And I promise you that, when we beat him, we shall beat him on our own terms, and in the American way.[Ibid.]
Unfortunately, the “American way” as Willkie hubristically boasted was not the cherished ideals of the past – non-intervention, commerce, peace – but would become that of war, economic collectivism at home, and eventually empire.
In an interview prior to the convention, Willkie wryly answered reporters’ questions about aid to the Allies: “I favor all possible aid to the Allies without going to war.” An insightful bystander asked him “Doesn’t that mean war?” Willkie responded: “That’s a matter of opinion.”
As the campaign came to its climax, Willkie’s rhetoric about secret deals that the Roosevelt Administration was conducting with the Allied leadership to bring the US into the war intensified:
I want to put some questions tonight to the President of the United States and to you people here. . . . Is there any one here who really thinks that the President is sincerely trying to keep us out of war?
An Administration that is not telling the truth is not qualified to head the country in time of crisis. . . . I want to ask the President, and I demand an answer: Are there any international understandings to put America into the war that we citizens do not know about?. . . . I have been repeatedly asked in my trips throughout the country if such secret understandings exist. The only answer I can give is that I do not know, but I want to know. [303-4]
The Republican nominee, however, never produced any hard evidence of FDR’s duplicity in the matter. Without any real alternative, the American electorate voted for the third time for a man that had pledged to keep the country at peace. For FDR, he had four more years to find a way to bring a reluctant nation into the conflict which he would accomplish via the “backdoor” with the badgering of Japan provoking them to attack in less than a year of his third inaugural address.
Besides Charles Beard’s accurate and courageous challenge to the orthodox historical interpretation of US involvement in World War II, American Foreign Policy in the Marking and its companion piece, President Roosevelt and the Coming of the War, were important studies at the time, for they gave a considerable boost to WWII revisionism. Those who questioned the origins of the war itself, and that of US participation in it faced far greater opposition to their views from academia, the press, and government authorities than had their predecessors who attempted to assess the responsible parties for igniting WWI.
While WWI revisionists had pretty much won the day and showed that Imperial Germany was not solely responsible for the war’s outbreak, WWII revisionists faced a far more daunting task in their search for truth. WWII is now, after some 70 years, seen as the “good war,” where America’s “greatest generation” valiantly fought in a noble crusade to rid the world of fascism in particular that of Nazi Germany.
Whether FDR lied, manipulated events, or colluded with Winston Churchill to bring the US into the war which the American public was solidly opposed to right up to the morning that the bombs fell on Pearl Harbor, no longer matters. The arguments and evidence produced by Beard and later revisionists have never been refuted by the gatekeepers of American historiography. Instead, FDR’s complicity in bringing the US into the hostilities are ignored or, if admitted to any degree, are justified since it led to the ultimate defeat of Hitler.
The internationalists argued that the American public caught up in its isolationist fog led by unworldly figures like Charles Lindbergh and Fr. Charles Coughlin could not grasp the threat that Hitler and his Axis partners posed to the world. It was the foresight and duty of visionaries like FDR and Churchill by defeating the Axis powers that preserved Western democratic values.
Yet, it was Charles Beard and other gallant souls who began debunking the sacrosanct myth of the Second World War long before it had been officially promulgated. His works on the origins of America’s entry into that conflagration have more than stood the test of time and have been vindicated by the historical record.
Charles Beard should not only be remembered and honored, but more importantly be learned from by all those who oppose the murderous and destructive US empire which emerged upon the ashes of WWII. If that empire is to be taken down, it must first be demystified and Beard’s revisionist works will be a part of that intellectual task. When that glorious event does come about, it will be because of the likes of Charles Beard who so well chronicled the nation’s tragic path to an eventual empire in American Foreign Policy in the Making1932-1940: A Study in Responsibilities.
*One popular “revisionist” account is by Patrick J. Buchanan, Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War: How Britain Lost its Empire and the West Lost the World. (New York: Crown Publishers, 2008).
**GerdSchultze-Rhonhof. 1939 – The War That Had Many Fathers: The Long Run-Up to the Second World War. trans. George F. Held (Munich, Germany: OlzogVerlag GmbH, 2011).
***Schultze-Rhonhof gave an excellent presentation of his book at the 2016 Property and Freedom Society’s meeting which can be see here: