America’s worst foreign policy of all time

In my opinion, the legislated neutrality acts of the 1930s are the worst foreign policy blunders in U.S. history — they prevented America from banding together with other nations (Britain, France, Spain, Ethiopia, Czechoslovakia, Poland, China, etc.) and taking a stand against the fascist nations at a time when only a strong policy backed by force could possibly have had any influence on events in Europe and Asia. It wasn’t until the Lend-Lease Act of March, 1941 that the U.S. began to substantially inch away from its stance of “legislated neutrality,” and by then it was FAR too late to deter the march of fascist aggression.

William Bond, main character in China’s Wings, put it perfectly in a letter he wrote to his wife four YEARS before Pearl Harbor, in November of 1937, writing in response to the Japanese invasion of China and the enormous — and largely forgotten — Battle of Shanghai, which forms a major section of China’s Wings.

“If you don’t want raise your boy to be a solider then we must be prepared to join against nations who start such aggressions. I cannot see any other solution. I don’t want any more wars, but I would rather face it again than see little Bondy [their son Langhorne] have to go through what I have seen because his elders didn’t have the intelligence and courage to put a stop to it.”

(Bond fought in the Great War, so he knew of what he wrote.)

I think it’s to my country’s everlasting shame that we couldn’t discern any principle or outrage — in either hemisphere — worth fighting for prior to December 7, 1941.

The best book I’ve found on U.S. foreign policy of the era is Robert Dallek‘s Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Foreign Policy, 1932-1945. (I’m not alone in thinking it’s the best.) It’s worth noting that FDR was adamantly against ALL of the neutrality acts. They were forced on him by an isolationist Congress.



  1. Good Points -Gregory

    You would be in a better position to know more about the AAC getting caught on the ground in the Phillipines still 10 hours after the attack. – but what I’m curious about was whether there were any simulated alerts being practised during the many months prior to the attack. The Japanese spent exhaustive practice runs and intense training before the attack. What did we do? Plans on paper are quite meaningless if they aren’t actually field tested. Perhaps both the lack of simulated response attack missions along with a general malaise at AAC command were contributing factors. It is always risky making sweeping statements about major historical events – but I feel it’s safe to say from the entire chain of U.S. command: A egregious lack of strategic security.

  2. Thanks for your response Gregory. i would like to to add that along with this inane U.S. isolationist policy was a pervasive dearth of strategic political and military analytical thought in American Foreign Affairs. Major American corporations like Ford, General Electric and Westinghouse invested many millions into Hitler’s Germany without the slightest thought that this madmen clearly signaled his obsession with world power. There were at leats two strategic studies submitted to Naval Affairs professing not only the capability – but even the liklihood of Japan attacking our strategic fleet as we were the only threat to their complete domination of the Pacific.

    1. True, but we considered sabotage to be the biggest threat at Pearl, and we did do something about that — line up all the airplanes so we could guard them easily.

      Gross misunderstanding of the carrier based airpower of the Japanese. Worth noting that US naval air control wouldn’t advance to the point where we could coordinate 350 airplane strike until the Truk raid in late 1943. They had acquired an incredible capability that we had barely conceptualized.

      1. Gregory – very astute and insightful comments. My only response, (not refuting your comments) is that although we never imagined the unimagineable we should have when we’re dealing with Japan. I don’t think it’s “excusable” to say that we had no conept of Japan’s capability. Although our pre-war intelligence was weak and undeveloped we still could have had human intelligence infiltrate Japan – even prior to their invasion of Manchuria. Prior to Pearl Harbor, Japanese Americans were among our most patriotic citizens, had families in Japan who were not partisans. The Japanese complete destruction of the Russian fleet in t905 shocked the world. Any astute military historian would realize that some 30 years after this shocking and stunning event – should have been a wake up call for us as a nation. World War 1 was the best thing that could have happened to Imperial Japan. They watched (probably in glee) as Western European countries completed decimated each other’s military and will to fight. It’s unimagineable to me for members of our so called”brain trust” wouldn’t have tuned the scope on high toward Japan.

        1. I agree that it was a massive intel failure. And failure of imagination. Despite the defeat of the Russians in ’05, I think there were some pretty racial biases in effect, too. “Well, the Russians weren’t a first rate Navy. The Japanese wouldn’t do so well against us.” I think there were plenty of voices in the intelligence community warning about the Japanese, and the Navy in particular had an eye focused on the Pacific. One of the reasons our aircraft carriers were at sea so much in 1941 was so they wouldn’t be caught in port by an attack. Intel reports had the Japanese making a move, but we guessed it would be a southward move. (It was that, too.) To me, the utterly grotesque neglect, sill unexplained, was how the AAC in the Philippines could have been caught on the ground at Clark airfield, midmorning, some ten hours after the Pearl Harbor raid, and after receiving lots and lots of notice. MacArthur should have burned for that.

  3. I totally agree with this premise. The U.S Congress starting their Isolationst Nose Dive when they vetoed Wilson’s League of Nations. Without the U.S joining the League it became a laughing stock toward the rise of Nazi Germany and Imperialist Japan. The U.S weak foreign policy left our brutally battered allies, France, England, even Russia to fend for themselves against the inevitable rise of Germany and Japan.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Peter. It’s a disgrace that we didn’t stand with the other democracies through the middle and late 1930s.

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