Prelude to War
Before Pearl Harbor, public opinion was the battlefield.
Sep 2, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 48 • By ALEXANDER B. GRAY
But it is Wendell Willkie, Roosevelt’s Republican opponent in 1940, who emerges as the true hero of the “angry days” before December 7, 1941. An interventionist serving as the standard-bearer for an isolationist-dominated party, Willkie adamantly refused to alter his belief in the necessity of aiding the Allies. And by unstintingly supporting Roosevelt’s cautious steps toward involvement, Willkie provided political cover to FDR and helped stiffen the president’s resolve. Had Willkie chosen political expediency in the heat of a presidential campaign, Roosevelt might well have been forced to further distance himself from efforts to aid the Allies in their darkest hours.
The message of this book could not be timelier. Like their predecessors, today’s new isolationists have decided that America’s geographical position, surrounded by two oceans and friendly neighbors, makes global engagement unnecessary and counterproductive. They reject assertions of inalienable American interests—from ensuring freedom of the seas to supporting our allies—which might require military involvement. More vehemently still, they recoil at the suggestion that the United States has a peculiar moral obligation on behalf of free peoples in the face of tyranny.
While the new isolationism falls within a historical tradition unlikely ever to disappear, the heirs of America First must be answered by those who understand, as Wendell Willkie and Franklin Roosevelt did, that no matter how much Americans abhor conflict, there are some things worth fighting for.
Alexander B. Gray is a writer in Washington.