Monday, May 14, 2007
  Time Capsule: Isolationism



Listening to Bob Trout's CBS newscast on the day when Hitler took over Austria in 1938. Most Americans were isolationists at that moment, and the attitude was expressed powerfully by Senator Lewis Schwellenbach, Dem from Washington. As it happens, he grew up here in Spokane, and moved to Seattle when he chose to enter politics.

Listen.

Here's a crude transcription of the main points, leaving out his poetic flourishes and emphasizing the parts I want to compare with modern thought.

Hitler's seizure of Austria demonstrates 3 things:

1. The futility of contracts with dictators.

2. Treaties signed at the point of a sword are useless. This invasion climaxes a series of violations of Versailles by Hitler. The other signatories never made meaningful response.

3. Demonstrates the futility of war as instrument for settling controversy. Twenty years ago we gave our blood, our treasure, to spread democracy across the world. Twenty years later we see the torch of world leadership being seized by Hitler. We cannot deny that Hitler is the leader of Europe. We tremble at what he will do next. We know what will become of religious liberty, both for the Jews and for the Catholics. It just will not exist. We know what will happen ... to other freedoms as well ...


Note the parallel mention of Jews and Catholics as Hitler's victims. This appeared repeatedly in news of that era. In 1938 it was common (and correct) knowledge that Hitler hated Catholics as much as he hated Jews. To be sure, he later focused mostly on Jews, but he killed plenty of Catholics as well.

This parallel hatred is a fact that our Communist cultural masters have tossed down the Memory Hole. Stalin 'rectified' the story after the war, as a way of tearing America and Europe away from the Church. And Stalin succeeded in America. Most Americans believe that Hitler was a Catholic, acting on behalf of Rome, in concert with Pope Pius XII. But the Stalinist version didn't play so well in Poland, its main target. Thank God.

Back to Schwellenbach:

Events are moving rapidly in Europe these days. ... England thought that by substituting the realistic actualities of Chamberlain for the idealism of Eden, it could stem the tide. Just two weeks later, England found it was too late. France thought it could rely on the "Steel Ring" it had placed about Germany. It now faces collapse of that ring. Even Mussolini looked with patronizing friendliness on his imitator; he now finds that the student has outgrown the master.

What does this mean for the average American? Certainly it leads to disillusionment with the instrument of war. We tried to preserve democracy in Europe once by going to war; we now know that war does not work.


Schwellenbach was exactly correct, given the information he had at the time. We had intervened in Europe only once, under Wilson. It failed mostly because Germany was not absolutely and utterly defeated, only worn down. But we didn't know all the reasons for the failure, and we had no experimental evidence for an alternate way to end a war with Germany.

Back to Schwellenbach:

[Quoting Emerson] Things refuse to be mismanaged long. Though no checks to a new evil appear, the checks exist and will appear. Nothing arbitrary, nothing artificial, can endure. Of all forms of government yet conceived, democracy furnishes the most useful agencies for fighting arbitary mismanagement. What we must do is preserve democratic methods in America. No doubt we will be importuned again to spend our resources in a futile effort to correct the failings of Europe. The inevitable law of which Emerson speaks will take care of Europe. What we must do is care for our own. Futility has ever been the nemesis of democracies. Never in the world's history has it been more necessary for democracy to work than here and now.

I like the line: "Futility is the nemesis of democracies."

[Later: I like it so much that I mounted it on top of the blog!]

In our present situation, we have more data. We cannot say that war serves no purpose, nor can we say that dictators will inevitably collapse of their own weight. Roosevelt proved that a well-managed war, plus a well-managed followup, can totally defeat an evil ideology, and the Soviet Union proved that a dictatorship can keep going for a very long time if nobody seriously tries to defeat it. Reagan then showed how a very different type of war, equally well-done, could destroy the Soviet style of dictatorship.

Modern isolationists may sound just like Schwellenbach, but they come from several different angles.

Some of them simply and straightforwardly agree that war never works: they are either uninformed or deliberately lying.

But futility is still our nemesis. A bizarrely mismanaged war still generates a fully understandable sense of futility in Americans. We see a mismanaged war that accomplishes nothing, and all of our politicians and enemy-controlled journalists tell us this is what a "hard-fought war" looks like. Our politicians give us only two alternatives: continue to "fight hard", or surrender now.

And the sense of futility is so powerful that it overwhelms even those of us who know better.

We know now that three choices are available: Fight fiercely and competently, fight softly and weakly, or surrender. Roosevelt, Wilson, Chamberlain.

Bush and the 'R' brand politicians are doing Wilson, while trying to fool us into thinking that they are doing Roosevelt. The 'D' brand politicians still haven't sorted out their position; a few are honestly talking surrender for the wrong reasons, but most are just plain befuddled.

Schwellenbach's sense of futility was perfectly simple and perfectly logical in 1938, given what he knew. Our futility comes from a different source. We have data that he didn't have and couldn't foresee, but we also know that our leaders refuse to act on the data. The path to success is known and available, but our leaders refuse to follow it. So our fatalism is deeper and more frustrating.

= = = = =

Later update: Since I've linked this entry from the Profile, I really should provide a concise summary of what Polistra stands for.

Basically, Polistra agrees with FDR. Not the caricature of FDR as the first modern liberal. That's another one of those agreed-on lies, used by both modern "sides" to serve their own evil purposes. Polistra agrees with the real FDR.

More explicitly: Why do we have a national government? To protect the ordinary family from the economic and physical depredations of various threats that are
too large for individuals to handle. What are those threats? Other nations that attack us physically or economically; transnational religious or political movements that attack us physically or culturally; and Mafia types such as financiers and speculators. When government has failed to stop the Mafiosi in time, government is obliged to provide the basic necessities and jobs that were stolen by the Mafia. Government is not supposed to protect the "rights" of criminals or foreigners, nor should it encourage ordinary people to be foolish or lazy.

Polistra's cri de coeur: Our government is responsible for our people. Our government should serve the cultural and economic interests of our people. If we ever reach the point when we've done absolutely EVERY FUCKING THING necessary to advance the culture and prosperity of our people, then we might be able to think about the internal affairs of other goddamn countries. Until that time, leave other goddamn countries alone.
 


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Polistra was named after the original townsite of Manhattan (the one in Kansas). When I was growing up in Manhattan, I spent a lot of time exploring by foot, bike, and car. I discovered the ruins of an old mill along Wildcat Creek, and decided (inaccurately) that it was the remains of the original site of Polistra. Accurate or not, I've always liked the name, with its echoes of Poland (an under-appreciated friend of freedom) and stars. ==== The title icon is explained here. ==== Switchover: This 2007 entry marks a sharp change in worldview from neocon to pure populist. ===== The long illustrated story of Polistra's Dream is a time-travel fable, attempting to answer the dangerous revision of New Deal history propagated by Amity Shlaes. The Dream has 8 episodes, linked in a chain from the first. This entry explains the Shlaes connection.

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