Neutrality and Isolationism

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Why did many Americans support a policy of isolationism in the 1930s?

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Isolationism was largely a reaction against the United States' involvement in World War I. President Wilson had taken the country to war in order to make the world safe for democracy. Yet after the conclusion of the Versailles Treaty, it seemed that for all Wilson's fine words and stirring rhetoric, the world was still a dangerous place. A growing sentiment emerged that the United States had expended precious blood and treasure in fighting a war that was ultimately none of its concern. If the Europeans couldn't sort out their own problems, so isolationists believed, then they shouldn't expect the United States to bail them out.

Isolationism gained added impetus during the 1930s. This was a time of great economic hardship in the United States, as in the rest of the world. Most Americans believed that the serious social and economic problems on the domestic front were more worthy of government attention than foreign affairs. During this time, the political situation in Europe was becoming ever more tense, with Hitler making increasingly bold territorial demands. Yet if anything this simply entrenched the position of isolationists. The closer the European continent came to another World War, the more determined the isolationists were to prevent the United States from being dragged into another cataclysmic conflict in far away lands.

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Many Americans supported a policy of isolation in the 1930s. There were reasons for this.

One reason was that we were dealing with the Great Depression. We had many issues at home to resolve in order to get the economy back on track. When many Americans were concerned about putting food on the table, they weren’t going to be worried about what other countries were doing. Our government leaders understood this and felt the same way.

People were also concerned about getting involved in another war. There were reports that our involvement in World War I was done to help our industries make money. This was one of the main findings of the Nye Committee. Americans had no interest in getting involved in a war for that reason.

Americans also weren’t psychologically ready for another war. World War I ended in 1918, and we weren’t mentally prepared for being involved in another war. We felt that if we stayed out of world affairs, we wouldn’t get drawn into a conflict. This led to the passing of several neutrality laws designed to keep us from getting dragged into another conflict.

There were good reasons why we wanted to follow a policy of isolationism in the 1930s.

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Many Americans in the 1930s supported a policy of isolationism because they did not want the US to be pulled into another war in the way that the country had (they felt) been pulled into World War I.

Many Americans felt that WWI had really not been any of America's business.  They felt that the country had been pulled into the war because of the demands of businesses that had trade ties with the Allied Powers in Europe.  Because of this, they wanted policies that would avoid this sort of problem happening again.  They got their wish when Congress passed the Neutrality Acts of the '30s.

Overall, then, Americans during this time supported isolationism because they did not want to be drawn into more destructive wars that were not really any of the US's business.

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