Book Review: A History of the Monroe Doctrine by Dexter Perkins and Americas Rise to World Power, 1898-1954 by Foster Rhea Dulles

Boston: Little, Brown and Co. 469 pp. $5.00.

(The New American Nation Series) New York: Harper and Brothers. 314 pp. $5.00.

The basic international and diplomatic policy of the United States—which kept us out of disastrous foreign wars and other expensive entanglements abroad for over a hundred years—is usually assumed to date from Washington’s Farewell Address of 1796. But it actually goes back a generation before this. It was clearly stated by John Adams in connection with the negotiations for French aid in 1776. Adams warned against making any alliance “which should entangle us in any future wars in Europe.”

At the close of the Revolutionary War, the Congress, under the Articles of Confederation, stated our traditional policy of neutrality as well as it has ever been expounded: “The true interest of the States requires that they should be as little as possible entangled in the politics and controversies of European nations.” This stand was formally invoked in President Washington’s forthright Neutrality Proclamation of April 22, 1793, and reaffirmed in his famous Farewell Address of September 17, 1796, in which the cogent passages read:

Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor, or caprice?

It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world . . . .

Taking care always to keep ourselves by suitable establishments on a respectable defensive posture, we may safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies.

The same clear policy of neutrality and avoidance of foreign involvements was heartily echoed by Thomas Jefferson in his first inaugural address: “Peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations—entangling alliances with none.” But the statement of this neutrality policy which acquired the greatest fame and possessed the most enduring force as the cornerstone of our foreign relations was that set forth in the famous Monroe Doctrine of 1823:

The citizens of the United States cherish sentiments the most friendly in favor of the liberty and happiness of their fellow-men on that [European] side of the Atlantic. In the wars of the European powers in matters relating to themselves we have never taken any part, nor does it comport with our policy so to do. It is only when our rights are invaded or seriously menaced that we resent injuries or make preparation for our defense.

Interventionists have sought to smear this historic American foreign policy with the term isolationism. “Peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations” surely is and has been as much as “all nations” could reasonably demand of the United States. But the situation has become very different at our mid-century when even the most remote and petty foreign country demands, and usually receives, a liberal handout from our federal treasury and has an air or naval base or detachment of American troops on its shores.

Not only has our foreign policy been completely transformed but this change has equally revolutionized our domestic political system, in which party tenure and economic “prosperity” are linked with cold and phony war, war scares, and the armament economy.

Two books by nationally known historians are devoted to the origins and development of the American foreign policy of neutrality, its abandonment, and the current contempt in which it is held both by the majority of American historians and by those who control American foreign policy, no matter which party occupies the White House.

Professor Dexter Perkins of the University of Rochester owes his reputation as an historian almost exclusively to his writings on the Monroe Doctrine. In 1927, he published his first volume on the subject, dealing with its origins. Two more volumes on its development from 1826 to 1907 followed, and in 1941 he condensed the three volumes into the present work. which has been reprinted several times. A revised version appeared late last year.

More than any other American historical scholar—more even than Charles Austin Beard, Edwin M. Borchard, or the present writer—Dexter Perkins would have seemed the logical person to assume the mantle of Leonidas or Horatius and stand four-square against the varied and numerous forces seeking to destroy the foreign policy which had given us so much peace, security, and prosperity, and for so long. Instead, he cites with approval a congenial historical mind who contends that “the American idea, of which Monroeism is an expression, is virtually outmoded,” and goes on to state as his own opinion that: “Certainly it is true that the American continents cannot be treated today as the area of primary interest to the United States in the field of world affairs.”

If Professor Perkins spurns the attitude of neutrality, to which he has devoted his lifework in tracing its origins and development and elucidating its happy and effective operation, he tells us little about the processes and events whereby we have moved from unabashed neutrality to intervention unlimited, cost what it may in men and money. This task is left to Professor Foster Rhea Dulles of Ohio State University in one of the early volumes of the New American Nation Series currently being published by Harper to supplant the distinguished collection of volumes edited a generation ago by Albert Bushnell Hart as the original American Nation Series.

Professor Dulles traces American foreign policy and the deeds which accompanied it, from the Spanish-American War to the close of the Korean War and the narrow escape from another “Korean” war or a third world war in Southeastern Asia. His book is an almost unrestrained rhapsody which traces the transition of American foreign policy and activities from neutrality to the most unlimited interference in world affairs in the whole record of the human race.

For example, Dulles’ treatment of the events leading to Pearl Harbor takes little or no cognizance of the vast body of revisionist revelations which have completely revolutionized our knowledge of the nature’ of American entry into World War II and the responsibilities therewith connected. So far as the interpretation is concerned, the book might have been written on the Day of Infamy.

The volume by Professor Dulles is not only significant and illuminating in itself as to the dominant historical attitudes and methods of our day; it is, perhaps, even more revealing as a volume in the Series of which it is a part. The shadow of Orwell’s “Ministry of Truth” hangs over all the accepted historical writing of our time which deals with recent world history.

It all mounts up to the fact that a whole generation of brainwashed high school and college students has already grown up virtually ignorant of the policies and events which so closely regiment their thinking and control their public and private life.

The trends and situation described above are intensely relevant to readers of THE FREEMAN, which fact constitutes the only justification for taking the space involved to present the foregoing material. Opponents of statism are all too prone to attribute the growth of state-activity in the United States to the impact of the imported Fabianism or Keynesian doctrine, the philosophy and policies of the New Deal, and the menace of communism. While it may be well to be alert to any and all needless challenges to personal freedom and business initiative, any defense against these is likely to be futile unless the main threat is plainly isolated, exposed, and confronted. Whatever the merits or defects of the New Deal, the statism which it promoted prior to rearmament and war was trivial compared to what now exists.

While the communists might work greater ravages than the interventionists have already wrought if they gained control of the country, that possibility is relatively remote, whether through infiltration from within or attack from without. But the interventionists have already taken us over and have controlled the country for nearly two decades. What they have done is a matter of record, past and present, written large in the increase of militarism and government expenditures, the towering debt structure, the never-ending foreign commitments and outlays, and the increasing danger of another world war. []

Harry Elmer Barnes

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