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The National Association of educational broadcasters welcomes you to the politics of revenge. An examination of the myth of isolationism as a force in American politics one and a series of discussion programmes titled politics in the 20th century. But it was then transcribed by the community education project in San Bernardino Valley College. First you'll hear Samuel Lubell political analyst journalist and author speaking from his study in New York and calculating some of the forces that are remaking the American political scene. Next you'll hear a group of four experts and scholars picking up the discussion in the department of government seminar room at the Moana College in Claremont California. The group will be led by Dr. Charles Nixon political scientist University of California Los Angeles and will have as its regular members Dr. Frank Lee sociologist University of California Riverside and Dr. Lee MacDonald a political scientist. But Mona college we have as our special guest today. Dr. Edward Rutan chief psychiatry state mental hygiene clinic Riverside California and now here is Samuel
Lubell as recorded in New York. Many people have wondered how Senator Joseph McCarthy could represent the same state which backed all babble of solid for more than a quarter of a century in a crusade that made Wisconsin the symbol of everything progressive in American life. This mystery disappears if one penetrates to the true nature of isolation is failing in this country. Isolationism has generally been thought odd as a hangar of our youthful past. Many Americans are supposed to have failed to grow up to the realisation of our new world responsibilities. This was particularly true of the Midwest which being in the interior was supposed to be less sensitive to events abroad than the coastal regions. I'm more likely to feel that the United States could live alone and get away with it. I saw the cure for isolationism. It was reason less to make Americans more world minded to emphasize how the
universe was shrinking under the expanding range of modern weapons. And to dramatize this nation's inseparability from the rest of the world. But when one examines the voting returns it becomes plain that this concept of isolationism is amiss. The hard core of isolationist feeling in the United States has been s mic and emotional and character not geographical. As a measure of isolation this feeling I have taken the Presidential route in 1920 when the League of Nations was an issue. And again in 1940 when World War 2 was underway by far the biggest drops in the Democratic vote came in areas with the heaviest concentrations of national army groups with a pro-German are anti-British bias. Latham being indifferent to Europe's was the evidence years that the so called isolationist actually were oversensitive to that.
Wisconsin of course is heavily German-American and background and it is this that explains the curious affinity of Senator McCarthy. I'm left falling actually following in Wisconsin was drawn from two distinct streams of voters those who backed his fight for economic liberalism and those mainly German Americans who rallied to him because he opposed World War 1 when the 1938 elections tore this coalition apart. McCarthy who had started in politics as a Democrat cast his political lot with the German Americans among whom he had been born and lived his entire life in doing so he rejected Follett's economic liberalism. But he fell heir to follow its role as the father of modern American isolationism and as a politician. One can go into any German American community and find that a talk with typical
residents becomes a virtual playback of McCarthy's speeches in such communities the belief is generally accepted that we were tricked into getting into both world wars and that this was the big mistake of American foreign policy in all these communities one finds a burning desire to vindicate their opposition to the last wall. It is this vengeful memory of opposition to the last war. Which is the real mainspring behind what is left of isolationism in this country. It also explains much of the bitterness that envelop the so-called loyalty fight. In my interviewing I have found almost invariably that the angriest outbursts against alleged communists in government I voiced in areas where opposition to our entering World War Two was strongest. And invariably as well the loudest outcries against McCarthyism and witch hunting come from those who are most ardent for our intervention in that war. In short what
makes the redish you so explosive politically is that it revives the animosities of the 1935 1940 period when the American people were debating so furiously among themselves whether Hitler's Germany or Stalin's Russia was our moral fault. In the end of cost Pearl Harbor forced the decision. But long before that millions of Americans lined up on one side or the other and those who felt most strongly about the issue have been at political odds since. This whole question of ethnic influences in our political life requires more extended discussion that can be given here. Perhaps I should stress that these ethnic conflicts do not reflect disloyalty or a divided patriotism between this country and ancestral homelands that main problem I believe is one of assimilation of racial and religious tolerance here at home.
For all the strongest single for us driving every immigrant group is the desire to be accepted as American. This drive is the key to their politics. Whatever helps or hurts the assimilation of the group. Will determine eventually its party allegiance. Now until World War One this struggle for acceptance as Americans was primarily a domestic matter. Since 1914 though. The wars abroad in our own military involvement and our struggles. Have had a heavy impact in helping or hurting your simulation of many ethnic elements. And this is the prime reason why these groups react so strongly to events abroad. The persistence of these ethnic attitudes to foreign policy also reveal why President Eisenhower has had so much trouble in remaking the Republican Party. Eisenhower's nomination it is true was engineered by the internationalist Republican wing.
But some of Eisenhower's most spectacular voting gains over Deweese 1948 showing came in areas which had been the strongest isolationist centers in the past. Politically Eisenhower's problem has been how to keep the votes of these onetime isolationists without becoming a prisoner of the disillusionments of a foreign policy which they harbor. This was Mr. Samuel Lubell recording in his study in New York. Now let's continue our discussion of the myth of isolationism as a force in American politics. As we join our scholars and their guest in Room Six Department of Government at the moment college. It was Dr. Nixon. Well gentlemen you've heard Mr. LaBella I'm wondering how his commentary on the American political scene strikes you. Mr. Lee as a sociologist What do you see in Mr. LaBelle's comments as being of particular importance. I would like to make two introductory comments. First I think his point that the
isolationist is sensitive to events abroad is a very well-taken one. And demolish is a myth which has long been around. I agree with him on this. The second point which I would like to make deals with two statements of his first of isolationism in this country is ethnic and emotional and not geographical and as a secondary part of that. His focus on Wisconsin on the German-American populations and in both of these I would like to say that I disagree as a sociologist and that I think the geographical aspect of it must still be retained and that the emphasis cannot be placed as explicitly on Wisconsin as he has done. Mr. McDonald as a political scientist what do you see in Mr. LaBella comments that strike you as particularly important. Well I would agree that the emphasis that Mr. Bill has put upon ethnic factors is significant but perhaps a little bit over emphasized. Mr. Lee has mentioned his emphasis on Wisconsin in this problem in relation to other areas of the country I think perhaps he's overemphasized
regionalism in Nick factors as opposed to economic factors. I Dr. RUDIN Now you're a psychiatrist. Do you see anything of a Belgian Marx that strikes you from your particular wrangle as relevant to what enters the station of our political scene now. Oh yes says a guest here I hope to learn a good deal from you about some of the meanings of Mr. Bell's remarks because what of course impressed me most was his emphasis on revenge as a motive of the isolationist trend or isolationist movement. And I'm not too sure what this revenge refers to just what it is that revenge is being sought for. Whether it really represents a desire to retaliate or whether there is the guilt involved in this that we so often think of in connection with revenge or whether what
Mr. Bell is really referring to is a kind of shifting over of feelings which we would refer to as displacement really. But again if I may invoke my position as a guest here I wonder if first of all Mr. Lee or Mr. MacDONALD could help me with defining for myself what the isolationism that Mr. Bell refers to really is is this isolationism of the period since World War 1 the same kind of political and sociological phenomenon as the parent or the kind of implication of isolationism which was present just after the American Revolution when this country did its intervening on a very minimal scale and tended more to be preoccupied with strengthening itself and seemed less concerned
or at least less involved in the affairs of Europe. I do not feel that there is a very close resemblance between the two eras of isolationism. I feel primarily that our isolationism of the early period of American history was due to two factors First our attention was centered in developing a new nation here and an expanding westward and secondly as a secondary factor I think we just were not strong enough to participate in the rivalries of the European powers. Well now it's been suggested mystery Lubell uses comment himself that isolationists have been characterized as people who won't face up to America's responsibilities and it should be doing this phenomenon our political life to a lack of maturity. So far as the American nation our American people are concerned would you can feel that this was a legitimate concept in interpreting that attitude toward foreign policy. Well let me put it is maturity after all this is
a positive symbol in our camp to Larry and we don't want to be mature. But I'm quite sure that looking at it from a psychological point of view and we should prefer to read and hear. An individual who personally is mature has a stable outlook may be one who follows a particular party line a particular economic ideology which would put him in the isolationist camp whereas another individual might be quite unstable and immature would be an in the internationalist camp I don't see that there's any particular relationship between personal maturity and attitudes toward foreign nations. I don't think that one can characterize an entire nation as being mature in its outlook toward international responsibilities. Well I would certainly agree. As a psychiatrist I would have little to say about that about national maturity I think it's just about impossible to make some kind of a group analysis and covering covering so large a segment of
humanity as any government or a nation. And certainly maturity has come to be something of a value in our culture today. That probably means many different things to many different people and I'm sure that there are some who would try to point to interventionism as an evidence of maturity and others who would with equal soundness of rationalization point to isolationism as an evidence of maturity. I think if we go back to Mr Lee's comment about the fact that the isolationist the political isolationist is not an individual who is insensitive to the activities abroad that we come to recognize that maturity cannot be claimed by reason of one's being an interventionist or an isolationist. The maturity that is involved is the maturity of an individuals being able to face up to the responsibilities he has both for himself and in his relationships with others. And I would assume
that most isolationists feel that they are acting maturely and responsibly in their isolationist attitude that it is their very feeling of the need for separation from some conflicting forces abroad that moves them into an isolationist position. With this suggest then that with respect to the question of maturity and maturity we can't really consider that one position is more mature than the others. Perhaps we need to look at this phenomenon in terms of differences of interest of people who have different kinds of life patterns and that the relevance of our European policies to these life patterns of people in one part of the country or another will vary and consequently this is at the root of the divisions that we have on these policy questions not a question of differences of personality dynamics. I would just retrench a little bit on this because I think that I wonder if the personality
dynamics can be ruled out of this. For example while I would question that isolationism or interventionism are in themselves evidences of maturity or an expression of maturity one or the other. I would at the same time wonder if there isn't a certain kind of personality. And again we're not the evaluating him as being mature or immature but a certain kind of personality who it tends to see as his way of coping with responsibility who tends to see is his way of obtaining security and satisfaction. A withdrawal from contact with others rather than a kind of gregariousness or an outgoing ness. And this was one of the reasons for my question about the similarities or differences between the isolationism of now and the isolationism of the post-American revolutionary period. I wonder if people who tend to think politically as isolationist are people who
tend to be rather withdrawn rather isolated as individuals that they tend to keep separate from other people for whatever reasons perhaps because of some sense of unfamiliarity with other people perhaps from some experiences with other people which have been fighting or threatening. Would you say that sooner McCarthy fits this description. I don't know Senator McCarthy. I would think though that Senator McCarthy is in the position of being a well-known figure who is little known. Which is true of most well-known figures there are enough areas of of and known about them that the average voter or the average individual can fill in the gaps with some kind of an image of his own. The fact is that I feel that Senator McCarthy. Has tended to symbolize the withdrawn in terms of individual personality and
the isolated in terms of some sociologic definition. And the isolationist in terms of some political definition. Whether he individually represent his really all these things is something I certainly don't know. Dr. Rhoden the argument between psychiatrists and sociologists have gone on for a long time of course we're not going to settle in today as a sociologist I would tend to reject at least partially your emphasis upon the withdrawn individual. But I do think that you have hit pretty close to a an important fact here which Lubell seems to dismiss which is the possible geographical isolation which many of these isolationist groups have found themselves in. Now as I noted at the beginning he places a great deal of emphasis upon Wisconsin too in drawing his evidence to support his point. And he makes some pretty. All inclusive statements here about the prevailing sentiment of a opinion on
isolationism and so forth in all German communities. And yet as is pointed out in a recent article by Professor smuggler in the American Political Science Review the Germanic city by and large of St. Louis Missouri has never been particularly isolationist and it seems to me that the point is not so much. Then one of withdrawn individuals as such in terms of personality development but rather of individuals who have grown up in isolation from the main strains of American society. In other words in the or rural areas where unless you are in contact with other groups quite different ethnic groups you tend to perpetuate your old traditions your own languages. And the bell goes on to point out in his book The Future of American politics that in many of your rural German areas the children grow up learning German better than they do English. And I want to go to the cities that they then find themselves at a disadvantage to those who live in cities from the very beginning. While they might be isolated at first this would not be true because of the greater contact which they would have with other ethnic groups.
That's another question I'd like to raise about this though. If you explain this phenomenon in terms of. People who tend to withdraw as a response to forces outside themselves it doesn't seem to me that this squares with actually the pattern of isolationist behavior when it comes down to our public policy analysis of isolationist vs. internationalist votes in Congress for example shows that representatives from say the New England states were strongly isolationist in the period from 33 to 43 and I've been strongly internationals from the period forty three to 53. I don't think you can assume that the people in this area have changed their personalities in this intervening war situation but rather that what is come about here is a change of perspective as to the interests of the identifications which the people in these areas have and that consequently it's not really the dynamics of individual personality as a withdrawal or aggressive quality but as rather you might say the way in which the change in actual world political
relationships change their sense of the relationship between American policy and other groups in the world to which they have certain sympathies and not simply world political relationships but domestic economic relationships too because if we look at the south we could see a long tradition of advocacy of the low tariffs. The desire here of course is to sell cotton abroad and when you find as you are flying today the growth of industry in the south you see a different attitude developing toward the tariff and also correspondingly a different attitude toward other foreign policy issues which are reflected in votes in Congress and it's interesting to note that most of the studies of isolationism have been based upon the voting records of certain congressmen on the floor of Congress. And I gather that those records show that in the present period Isolationism is to be found not merely in Wisconsin on the areas with the German-American background population but also in the south and a good many other sections of the country as well.
Which raises the question then as to whether or not it is legitimate as Lubell suggests to try and interpret you the isolationist phenomenon or the tremendous support for McCarthy essentially in terms of our reaction of the German American population to our participation in a war against Germany and an attempt to justify and vindicate themselves in their opposition to that participation or are there other forces in this picture which have given rise to these phenomenon today. Mr. Nixon I think we may be in some danger here ourselves of perhaps committing the same error that Mr. LaBella may have committed and in trying to oversimplify and trying to explain. A political trend or a political act. On the basis of one cause of penury of determining causes it is very nice but doesn't always hold up. If we go back to your comment earlier of the shift in the thinking in the
New England states I think we have to recognize that people may be isolationist and by reason of their identification with another. With any group with a foreign country with their own heritage that they may also be motivated toward isolationism by some withdrawal. The withdrawal needs within themselves some need to see themselves as separated from others and as being capable of acting independently. Without ever needing to rely on someone else and therefore never needing to be relied upon by someone else. And also then the possible motivation of some kind of retaliation. Now again I have some question about the term revenge itself as Lubell uses it but what comes to mind is the phenomenon that I'm sure we've all experienced in observing youngsters who have made a visit to the dentist or who have suffered some kind of injury and who then put themselves in the position of reliving in their
play this same injury but being able to hurt others themselves instead of being hurt by others. And is this what Bluebell is referring to when he talks about revenge. Well gentlemen I think at this point we should perhaps ask ourselves the question. Where have we gone with Lubell in this discussion. Mr Lee has suggested that Blue Bell is quite correct and is position that those who have taken an isolationist position have not been so out of insensitivity to international problems but out of a particular concern an interest in those problems. However he has argued with Lubell that Bluebell has not been correct in his de-emphasis of the geographical element in the phenomenon of isolationism but rather the geographical element is still important both with respect to the geographical location of people of particular ethnic and European origins but also with respect to the rural urban divisions in American life and that the
phenomenon of isolationism can be found more strongly in rural areas than in urban areas. Mr. McDonald has made the point that not only do we find an ethnic factor in the element of isolationism but there was also an economic factor in isolationism and the perhaps the changing position of members of Congress from the southern states represented this that whereas the South was previously in the internationalist camp. And this economy is changing so its attitude on international questions are changing and it is perhaps somewhat less internationals today than it was in the period before World War 2. And Dr. Rubin has made clear to us that the process of individual personality dynamics may be related to these questions of international policy but that isolationism may perhaps not properly be spoken of merely as a matter of revenge and getting back at certain sections of the American public for getting us into World War One into. But that actually there is a process of
displacement. But that not only do we find this element of personality dynamic in it but that these processes whereby people commit themselves to various positions on public policies are due to a multiplicity of causes not merely to a single cause. And also that these mechanisms whereby the isolationists respond to foreign policy because of their personality dynamics also apply to those who are internationalist that these things belong to both sides on these policy issues. They are not a phenomenon which is confined to only one side of the issue. Well gentlemen I wonder if there are other questions which we might have dealt with during this discussion that are raised by LaBelle's comments. Mr. LEE The question that I would raise is what is going to happen to American isolationism as a rural area population shrink and as they become more urbanized in this process. Mr. McDONALD Well in light of our agreement that there are so many causes of isolationism I would
ask whether racial times are whom can really as the bill suggests basically some of this complex problem of foreign policy not to ruin what other questions do you see. Well I would wonder if Lubell has made the German-American ethnic group the scapegoat for isolationism and has made McCarthy is somehow the symbol for this scapegoat. And Dr. Reardon Mr. Lay Mr. McDonald thank you for your participation in this discussion. You know I've been listening to the politics of revenge and examination of the myth of isolationism as a force in American politics. One in a series of discussion programs titled politics in the 20th century. First we heard from Samuel Lubell political analyst journalist and author as recorded in his study in New York then across the country to room six in the Department of Government at the motor college for a discussion of bluebells analysis conducted by Dr. Charles Nixon political scientist University of California Los Angeles. Dr. Frank Lee sociologist University of California Riverside
Politics in the twentieth century
The politics of revenge
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San Bernardino Valley College
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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This program, "The Politics of Revenge," is an examination of the myth of isolationism in American politics.
This series consists of moderated panel discussions on American political affairs in the mid-20th century. It features Samuel Lubell, Professor Charles Nixon and others.
Politics and Government
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Panelist: Lee, Frank
Panelist: McDonald, Lee Cameron
Panelist: Gruden, Edward
Producing Organization: San Bernardino Valley College
Speaker: Lubell, Samuel
Speaker: Nixon, Charles
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 57-8-3 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:28:51
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Chicago: “Politics in the twentieth century; The politics of revenge,” 1957-01-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 18, 2021,
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