Discussion:
OT: History Debate - Interwar US "Isolationism" extended beyond Europe
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Rob Harris
2007-12-22 22:35:13 UTC
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Many (not necessarilly on this group) have commented that interwar
isolationism was primarily in favor of isolating the US from the
political conflicts of Europe, and objected far less to US
intervention in Latin America or the Pacific for example. This
perspective has come forth in general historical works, which often
see an anti-Atlanticist, Asia-First or "Asialationist" perspective as
continuing from the the debates of the late 30s and early 40s on
whether to support the anti-Hitler coalition into the early 50s among
conservatives who favored MacArthur's aggressive proposals against
Communist China and viewed NATO as much less important.

In alternate history, the belief that interwar isolationists objected
to another conflict with Germany, but accepted conflict with Japan, is
reflected in a few published stories and unpublished timelines where
the US stays out of war with Germany but nevertheless clashes with
Japan.

One theme used by some authors is that there is that the China Lobby
was a powerful forces from the 1930s through the 1950s and beyond that
made aggressive opposition to Japanese expansion and later to
communist China more politically palatable among domestic
constituencies (especially conservatives and Republicans) than
opposition to Hitler. In theory the Asia first emphasis gained
strength from the history of US missionary and business involvement in
the Far East.

The main problem with this viewpoint as a description of history, or
in generating plausible alternate histories, is that the record does
not back it up.

In fact, the same people who supported vigorous neutrality laws and
most opposed intervention in Europe also generally opposed involvement
in the Sino-Japanese war, economic embargoes and a big military
buildup in the western Pacific.

It's false to create a dichotomy between those favoring intervention
in Europe on the one hand and those favoring intervention in the
Pacific and Latin America on the other.

The strictest neutrality laws for example were pushed at the same time
as the US was completing implementation of the "Good Neighbor Policy"
of abstaining from military interventions in Latin America.

In retrospect, the China lobby seems rather weak in the 1930s. There
was no embargo on Japan until the 1940s, and Gglobal considerations,
related to Germany, played even more of a role than specific Chinese-
Japanese considerations. The China Lobby was actually much stronger
in the 1950s, especially after China entered the Korean War.

Why have many assumed that the US found fighting Japan a more
acceptable prospect than fighting Germany in the 1930s, and why have
they inferred that racism was important in that equation?

Basically for two reasons - because racist caricature was used against
the Japanese before and after Pearl Harbor, and because there was an
Asia-first constituency after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.

I believe that people incorrectly project post-1941 Asia-firstism back
to the pre-Pearl Harbor era.

But the reasons for an Asia-First orientation after Pearl Harbor were
far more straightforward than some preexisting popular sentiment for a
racial clash with the Japanese. It was motivated because the Japanese
started the war with the US and in 1942 were the attacking US
possessions and ground forces. It does not mean that the people who
were Asia-Firsters had been eager to fight Japan in 37, 38, 39 or 40.

Ameri
Rich Rostrom
2007-12-22 22:47:41 UTC
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Post by Rob Harris
In alternate history, the belief that interwar isolationists objected
to another conflict with Germany, but accepted conflict with Japan, is
reflected in a few published stories and unpublished timelines where
the US stays out of war with Germany but nevertheless clashes with
Japan.
One theme used by some authors is that there is that the China Lobby
was a powerful forces from the 1930s through the 1950s and beyond that
made aggressive opposition to Japanese expansion and later to
communist China more politically palatable among domestic
constituencies (especially conservatives and Republicans) than
opposition to Hitler. In theory the Asia first emphasis gained
strength from the history of US missionary and business involvement in
the Far East.
The main problem with this viewpoint as a description of history, or
in generating plausible alternate histories, is that the record does
not back it up.
I'll agree that there was no great sentiment
for intervention in Asia, but the U.S. could
not be isolationist in the same way as re
Europe, nor was it.

The U.S. had possessions in the western
Pacific: Guam and the Philippines.

The U.S. also had military forces deployed
in Asia: gunboats on the Yangtze, Marines
in Beijing and Shanghai.

Thus the possibility exists of U.S.-Japanese
entanglement in spite of U.S. preferences.

One must remember that it was Japan which
forced the issue, not the U.S. If Japan
attacked the Philippines or Guam, there
would be war. If not, not.
--
| Decapitation is, in most instances, associated |
| with a decline in IQ. |
| |
| -- Professor Raymond Tallis |
Rob Harris
2007-12-23 05:01:41 UTC
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Raw Message
Post by Rich Rostrom
Post by Rob Harris
In alternate history, the belief that interwar isolationists objected
to another conflict with Germany, but accepted conflict with Japan, is
reflected in a few published stories and unpublished timelines where
the US stays out of war with Germany but nevertheless clashes with
Japan.
One theme used by some authors is that there is that the China Lobby
was a powerful forces from the 1930s through the 1950s and beyond that
made aggressive opposition to Japanese expansion and later to
communist China more politically palatable among domestic
constituencies (especially conservatives and Republicans) than
opposition to Hitler.  In theory the Asia first emphasis gained
strength from the history of US missionary and business involvement in
the Far East.
The main problem with this viewpoint as a description of history, or
in generating plausible alternate histories, is that the record does
not back it up.
I'll agree that there was no great sentiment
for intervention in Asia, but the U.S. could
not be isolationist in the same way as re
Europe, nor was it.
The U.S. had possessions in the western
Pacific: Guam and the Philippines.
The U.S. also had military forces deployed
in Asia: gunboats on the Yangtze, Marines
in Beijing and Shanghai.
These are good points.
Post by Rich Rostrom
Thus the possibility exists of U.S.-Japanese
entanglement in spite of U.S. preferences.
One must remember that it was Japan which
forced the issue, not the U.S. If Japan
attacked the Philippines or Guam, there
would be war. If not, not.
- True, Japan had the responsibility for its actions.

The US did not go so far as to disentangle itself from the western
Pacific, and began a two-ocean navy build-up. A build-up that fell
far behind the suddenly assertive US economic pressures adopted in 40
and 41.

However, one can see in circumspect US policies in the Western Pacific
in the 1930s a reflection of similar caution in Europe.

Though it's forces were present in the western Pacific, they were kept
weak and directed to back away from conflict. In objecting to a build-
up capable of defending the western Pacific possessions, until after
1940, objectors not only cited expense as a reason to stay weak, but
were implicitly or explicitly counting on keeping the Philippines and
Guam safe primarily by keeping tensions with Japan low. The idea of
economic sanctions on China was repeatedly rejected as provocative
towards Japan until 1940 also. China worried enough about US
neutrality legislation to avoid declaring war on Japan and triggering
restricvtive US export rules.

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