Monday, February 9, 2015

Andrew Johnstone's "Against Immediate Evil"

Andrew Johnstone is a Lecturer in American History at the University of Leicester in the UK.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Against Immediate Evil: American Internationalists and the Four Freedoms on the Eve of World War II, and reported the following:
Against Immediate Evil tells the story of how groups of internationalist-minded private citizens worked between 1938 and 1941 to convince the U.S. government and the American public of the need to act to stem the rising global tide of fascist aggression. Whether through the provision of aid to victims of aggression or ultimately through a declaration of war, organizations such as the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies pushed against the prevailing non-interventionist sentiment and urged a greater international role for the United States. Page 99 is drawn from chapter five which covers the summer and fall of 1940, and manages to cover two of the broader themes that run throughout the book: the close relationship between these private citizens and the Roosevelt administration, and the complicated relationship among the internationalists.

Page 99 opens with the end of a section on the destroyer-bases exchange, which saw fifty WWI-era destroyers traded to Britain in exchange for the right to lease air and naval bases in the western hemisphere from Newfoundland down to British Guiana. Winston Churchill had pleaded for the destroyers, but the idea of an exchange that would help bolster American security was first suggested to Franklin Roosevelt by private internationalists. Roosevelt then asked internationalist leader and Emporia Gazette editor William Allen White to sound out Republican presidential candidate Wendell Willkie, and White was able to reassure the president that Willkie was sympathetic to the proposal. The internationalists also helped prepare the legal arguments that reassured Roosevelt he could conduct the exchange without Congressional approval. Page 99 concludes that “the exchange represented the closest interaction between the internationalists and the administration during the entire period.”

The rest of page 99 examines the growing tension within the internationalist movement that developed through 1940 between those who thought aid-short-of-war to friendly democracies was sufficient, and those who felt a more interventionist stance was required. A relatively minor spat over the contents of a newsletter providing background material for newspaper editors ended up highlighting divisions within the movement. These divisions ultimately led to the resignation of William Allen White over the direction of the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies, and the creation of the more interventionist Fight For Freedom organization in 1941. Rather surprisingly, debates and turf wars among internationalists were just as bitter as those between internationalists and non-interventionists like the America First Committee.
Learn more about Against Immediate Evil at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue