America’s Relationship Status is Complicated: Lessons Learned from Isolationism in World War I and World War II
U.S. Isolationism: World War I
From Isolationism to Intervention: World War I
U.S. Isolationism: World War II
From Isolationism to Intervention: World War II
What can we learn from United States isolationist foreign policy during the first and second World Wars to help inform our approach to international relationships today?
Colors of The Famous 369th Infantry in Parade in New York City https://catalog.archives.gov/id/533494.
My research question is, “What can we learn from United States isolationist foreign policy during the first and second World Wars to help inform our approach to international relationships today?”
Isolationism and World War I
World War I began in 1914
The U.S. remained neutral until 1917
Wilson re-elected on Isolationism
1916 Campaign slogan “He Has Kept Us Out of War”
Examples of Campaign Buttons | www.worldwar1.com
Although World War I began in 1914, The United States stayed neutral until 1917. Isolationism was a long-standing tradition dating back to the Revolutionary war, when America gained its independence from Great Britain. America was leery of becoming entangled with foreign nations ever since its inception. Wilson ran his 1916 reelection campaign on the fact that he kept America out of World War I. His reelection solidified the belief that the majority of voters wanted to continue to stay out of international conflicts. It was difficult for some to see how a foreign war could impact America.
Intervention in World War I
The sinking of the Lusitania
American citizens perished at Germany’s hands
Wilson’s League of Nations
Isolationist figures in U.S. opposed the League
Lusitania Headline: Hulton Archive/Getty Images
According to MacMillen, Wilson eventually came to see Germany as a menace to society and the world, and he came to advocating to make the world “safe for democracy” despite being elected as an isolationist (1). The sinking of the Lusitania would become one of the events that began to shift America toward intervention. Newspapers reported the sinking with emphasis on American lives lost (2). The U.S. would eventually intervene in World War 1 in 1917. As the war concluded, the battle in America between isolationists and interventionists heated up. Though Wilson tried to advocate for the League of Nations, powerful isolationist figures like Charles Lindbergh ultimately prevented Congress from sanctioning the League. The war sent the U.S. even further toward isolationism, with Congress passing Neutrality acts and placing limits on immigration to further solidify the country’s isolated position in foreign affairs. Norwich University offers the possibility that it was “perhaps isolationist Warren Harding’s election to the office of President that offered the greatest repudiation of the League of Nations and Wilson’s interventionism” (3).