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Canadian Review of American Studies/ Revue canadzem1e d'etudes americames Volume 2.6,Number 1, Winter 1996, pp. 1-30 Prelude to War: The Interventionist Propaganda of Archibald MacLeish, Robert E. Sherwood, and John Steinbeck PeterBuitenhuis The American sleep of isolation in the 1930s-the separation from the tumultuous events in Europe and Asia-was deep and prolonged. Franklin D. Roosevelt was aware of the problems in this wider world and deeply concerned about the implications for the future of his country. For some time, however, he felt he could do little to aid the internationalists who wanted the United States to take a stand against fascist' aggression. The purpose of this paper is to discuss how three prominent writers of the time, Archibald MacLeish, Robert E. Sherwood and, to a lesser extent, John Steinbeck became involved in the fight against fascism and, subsequently, became agents of propaganda for the U. S. government. Realistically, Roosevelt could do little to influence world affairs after 1935 when the Neutrality Act was forced through Congress by the isolationists . Calculating on political advantage, Roosevelt had done almost nothing to oppose the act and now his hands were tied by his own expediency. Facing an election in 1936, Roosevelt was not willing to risk alienating powerful groups within the Democratic party (Burns 1956, 259-63). Soon after his reelection, the international situation deteriorated even more rapidly. He was confronted by the naked aggression of the fascist powers against the government of Spain in support of the rebel Franco. Again Roosevelt fumbled his opportunities. The Neutrality Act had come up for mandatory revision and he had an opportunity to persuade Congress to 2 Canadian Review of American Studies Revz-teamadienne d'etudes americames amend it in order to prevent the shipment of arms and supplies to Franco. However, again acting out of political expediency, he accepted an amendment that excluded the current conflict in Spain from his discretionary power (Davis 1993, 121-23). Roosevelt made a few cautious moves to influence public opinion about the dangers. One was the famous "Quarantine" speech, given in Chicago on 5 October 1937. "War," he said, "is a contagion, whether declared or undeclared ." The peace-loving community of nations, he went on, should make a concerted effort to impose quarantine upon these aggressors (Davis 1993, 131). Yet he later denied that the speech would lead either to a conference of the peace-loving nations or to a revision of the Neutrality Act. Kenneth S. Davis believes that if Roosevelt had acted on the quarantine speech and mobilized the considerable interventionist forces in the country, he mrght have deterred the aggression of Hitler, Mussolini and the Japanese imperialists (136). On the other hand, as Robert A. Divine has pointed out: Given the unwillingness, indeed the inability, of Britain and France to stand behind their own vital interests in Europe, and the total failure of the League of Nations, it would have been a remarkable act of faith for the United States to embrace collective security .... The European appeasers were in a very real sense the co-authors of American neutrality policy. (1965, 30-31) The fragility of Roosevelt's control over Congress on the neutrality issue was emphasized by the constitutional amendment proposed by the Indiana Democrat Louis Ludlow. The Ludlow amendment would have required a popular referendum before the Congress could declare war. He had rounded up enough votes to permit action on his proposal, which was to come before the House on 10 January 1938. Only intense lobbying by the administration and critical speeches by Roosevelt and Cordell I-foll, the Secretary of State, plus threats by the Postmaster General to cut off patronage funds, persuaded enough Democrats to change their minds. The resolution failed by the close margin of 209 to 188 (Divine 1965, 48-49). Pete1 Bwtenhuis I 3 Roosevelt did what he could through diplomatic channels to try to stem the rise of fascist aggression. In January 1938, he wrote to Neville Chamberlain tentatively proposing a meeting of the leaders of the democracies to deal with the situation. Chamberlain, however, rebuffed the overture. Roosevelt could only stand by helplessly to watch I-fitler's A11schlussin Austria...


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