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The Peace Progressives and American Foreign…

The Peace Progressives and American Foreign Relations (1995)

by Robert David Johnson

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This innovative, well-written book provides a very different perspective on American foreign policy in the 1910s and 1920s, by highlighting the work of the "peace progressives" in the US Senate. Largely Republicans from the West and Midwest (in those long-ago days when the Republican party had a progressive wing), this loose coalition of senators challenged Woodrow Wilson's efforts to put America in the League of Nations (which they viewed as mostly a front for European imperialism) and later offered the only consistent Congressional opposition to the business-oriented foreign policies of the Republican administrations of Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover (the Senate Democrats were severely fragmented on foreign policy issues).

In the 1920s, the peace progressives championed anti-imperalist and anti-militarist positions, calling for support for weaker nations, bans on international arms sales, and the outlawing of war. Though they won few victories, their causes were not as hopelessly idealistic and utopian as they might sound today. The Kellogg-Briand Pact, for example, which outlawed war, was co-sponsored by Coolidge's secretary of state, Frank Kellogg, and ratified by the Senate 85-1 in 1928. Never a strong bloc in terms of votes, the peace progressive coalition weakened in the 1930s as the Depression deepened. Some members lost their Senate seats, while others traded in their anti-imperialism for economic nationalism, in the hope that protectionism and similar measures might help their suffering constituents. The rise of liberal, Democratic New Deal leaders during the Roosevelt Administration effectively changed the face and direction of progressive reform, and the old peace progressives faded away.

This is not a book for general readers. It assumes basic familiarity with US politics and foreign policy in the 1910s and 1920s, and is quite narrowly focused on the views and legislative efforts of this relatively small group of senators. Several chapters do consider the role other groups played in the Senate during this period, and there is a useful discussion of the wider US peace movement of the time. Still, it reminds us (unlike most studies of the foreign policy of this period) that there was, once, a sizeable constituency in Washington and in the nation as a whole for foreign policies that reflected American ideals, not just American business interests. ( )
1 vote walbat | Sep 24, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0674659171, Hardcover)

This intensively researched volume covers a previously neglected aspect of American history: the foreign policy perspective of the peace progressives, a bloc of dissenters in the U.S. Senate, between 1913 and 1935. The Peace Progressives and American Foreign Relations is the first full-length work to focus on these senators during the peak of their collective influence. Robert David Johnson shows that in formulating an anti-imperialist policy, the peace progressives advanced the left-wing alternative to the Wilsonian agenda.

The experience of World War I, and in particular Wilson's postwar peace settlement, unified the group behind the idea that the United States should play an active world role as the champion of weaker states. Senators Asle Gronna of North Dakota, Robert La Follette and John Blaine of Wisconsin, and William Borah of Idaho, among others, argued that this anti-imperialist vision would reconcile American ideals not only with the country's foreign policy obligations but also with American economic interests. In applying this ideology to both inter-American and European affairs, the peace progressives emerged as the most powerful opposition to the business-oriented internationalism of the decade's Republican administrations, while formulating one of the most comprehensive critiques of American foreign policy ever to emerge from Congress.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:08 -0400)

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