The following selections are a collection of primary source documents and contextual information about events related to U.S. foreign relations. The majority of them come from History Matters at George Mason University. The documents reflect a variety of approaches that can be taken to examine U.S. foreign policy and diplomatic history. They are listed by general chronological categories, ending with a group of sources spanning several historical periods.
There are approximately 100 documents or links to websites with documents listed here, but it is not intended to be an exhaustive compendium of available material.
Documents from 1750 to 1860
“Born Yet We Are Debarred Englishmen’s Liberty”: A Massachusetts Soldier Confronts British Society, 1759
During the 18th century, American colonists found themselves increasingly involved in wars, often imperial ones, spiraling out of European battlefields onto the North American continent. The Seven Years War between France and Great Britain began along the western frontier and spread in 1754. New Englanders eagerly volunteered for expeditions leading to the invasion of French Canada. British and colonial forces succeeded together in capturing the great French fortress of Louisbourg in Nova Scotia in 1758. But as Massachusetts soldier Gibson Clough discovered, the British regular army looked down on the colonial militia. British concepts of discipline and social hierarchy varied significantly from colonial ones, and the war experience began to encourage colonists’ conception of themselves as Americans.
This 1767 engraving, published in Great Britain and attributed to Benjamin Franklin, warned of the consequences of alienating the colonies through enforcement of the Stamp Act. The act was a 1765 attempt by Parliament to increase revenue from the colonies to pay for troops and colonial administration, and it required colonists to purchase stamps for many documents and printed items, such as land titles, contracts, playing cards, books, newspapers, and advertisements. Because it affected almost everyone, the act provoked widespread hostility. The cartoon depicts Britannia, surrounded by her amputated limbs—marked Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, and New England—as she contemplates the decline of her empire. Franklin, who was in England representing the colonists’ claims, arranged to have the image printed on cards that he distributed to members of Parliament.
“Much Blood May be Shed Ere Liberty be Firmly Established”: Benjamin Franklin Bache Defends the French Revolution, 1792–93
Americans keenly followed the events of the French Revolution. Reactions to the growing violence and social upheaval split along emerging party lines—Federalists expressed horror while Democratic Republicans were more sympathetic. Benjamin Franklin Bache, grandson of Benjamin Franklin, was a journalist, the founder of the Philadelphia General Advertiser, and supporter of Jefferson’s Republican party. In these two pieces he sympathetically summarized the situation in France during the period when Louis XVI was put on trial and executed. He defended the actions of the revolutionaries on the grounds that they were merely responding to the provocations of nobles and other “traitors.” Newspapers in the 1790s quickly became party organs and contributors to the fierce polemics of this factious era. Bache was no exception. He attacked the Federalists mercilessly and was arrested under the Sedition Act, an act of Congress passed by Federalists to prosecute government critics for seditious speech or writings.
“I Began to Feel the Happiness, Liberty, of which I Knew Nothing Before”: Boston King Chooses Freedom and the Loyalists during the War for Independence
Realizing that their best chance of emancipation lay with the British army, as many as 100,000 enslaved African Americans became Loyalists during the War for Independence. They risked possible resale by the British or capture by the Americans, and many became refugees when the British withdrew at the end of the war. Born near Charleston, South Carolina, Boston King fled his owner to join the British. He escaped captivity several times and made his way to New York, the last American port to be evacuated by the British. King was listed in the “Book of Negroes” and issued a certificate of freedom, allowing him to board one of the military transport ships bound for the free black settlements in Nova Scotia. There, King worked as a carpenter and became a Methodist minister. He moved to Sierra Leone in 1792 and published his memoirs, one of a handful of first-person accounts by African-American Loyalist refugees.
The initial documents establishing the basis of relations between the newly independent United States and Great Britain can be seen in documents through 1784 found at Yale University’s Avalon Project: Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy.
In the half century from 1786 to 1836 the United States made nine treaties with the Barbary States, as they were then called: Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli. The treaties and other documents are collected by Yale University’s Avalon Project: Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy. Start with the introduction by Hunter Miller.
“I found him to be a very intelligent and feeling man”: Enslaved James Riley Encounters an Arab Trader, 1815
For centuries pirates, known as the Barbary pirates, operated out of the North African states of Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli. European states paid tribute to them to ensure their people’s safe passage. Without British protection and with few financial or diplomatic resources, the new American nation’s ships and citizens were vulnerable on the high seas. Between 1785 and 1820, more than 700 Americans were taken hostage and often enslaved. The American public was fascinated by these captives' stories; their tales of desert cities, caravans, and harems bridged the previously popular Puritan captivity narratives and emerging slave narratives. The most influential of all these American Barbary narratives was James Riley’s Loss of the American Brig Commerce. A Connecticut sea captain, Riley ran aground in 1815 and was captured by wandering Arabs. He used his enslavement to call into question the enslavement of Africans and express a common humanity with the desert people he encountered.
“A Hungery Savage Look which was Truly Fearful”: Samuel Chamberlain’s Recollections of the Mexican War, 1846
In the mid-nineteenth century, many Americans were eager to acquire the Mexican land of California and New Mexico, enough to provoke a war with Mexico. In 1845 U.S. President James K. Polk sent envoys who offered to buy Mexican territory and stationed federal troops in the border areas. Naval forces patrolled the Gulf coast and American consuls in California stirred up annexation fever. When the presence of those troops brought an anti-American government to power in Mexico in 1846, Polk ordered General Zachary Taylor and his troops to the Rio Grande and declared war. Taylor pursued retreating Mexican forces 100 miles into Mexico to the heavily fortified city of Monterrey. New Englander Samuel Chamberlain was eager to do battle against the Mexicans and expand the American empire. This excerpt from his illustrated manuscript, “My Confessions: Recollections of a Rogue,” described his participation in the fierce house-to-house battle for Monterrey in September 1846.
The American Memory Project, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. provides considerable material on the early development of California before it was a state.
“Gold Fever!” contains the more detailed narrative and analytic material on the gold rush story, covering such topics as the journeys to gold rush California, the miners’ daily life, law and order, commerce, and entertainment. Each page has text and pictures, photos of objects from the exhibition.
Documents Relating to the Period 1861-1900
One of the most notable Indian warriors of the post-Civil War era was Crazy Horse (Tashunka Witko), a military leader of the Teton Sioux. In the aftermath of Custer’s defeat by Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull at the Little Big Horn in June 1876, U.S. troops relentlessly pursued both Indian leaders. Crazy Horse was arrested in September, taken to Fort Robinson (in what is now northwestern Nebraska), and ultimately killed by a soldier, perhaps after the Indian warrior resisted being locked in a guardhouse.
One of the many versions of Crazy Horse’s death and secret burial can be heard in this interview with George Kills in Sight, which was done by Joseph Cash of the University of South Dakota in 1967 when Kills in Sight was in his seventies. Kills in Sight’s family—his father’s mother was Crazy Horse’s cousin and learned about Crazy Horse from his grandfather, Big Crow—taught him to revere Crazy Horse as a heroic figure. Kills in Sight concludes by describing how his grandfather and others took the body and secretly buried it.
“We Didn’t Have Flies Until the White Man Came”: A Yankton Sioux Remembers Life on the Plains in the Late 19th century by Paul Picotte/Joseph Cash
In the era before the U. S. Army conquered the Great Plains Indians the region’s giant buffalo herds provided the primary food and clothing source for the Indians who lived there. Indeed, in 19th century America buffalo were more numerous than people. The various Lakota Sioux tribes who lived in the area that became South Dakota and Nebraska depended largely on the buffalo hunt according to Paul Picotte, a Yankton Sioux born in 1880. In this transcript of a 1968 interview with historian Joseph Cash, Picotte recalled the elaborate process used to hunt, dress, and preserve buffalo.
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 brought an enormous chunk of Mexico to the United States. This added to the territory obtained by the annexation of Texas in 1845, but more than just territory was added. More than 75,000 Spanish-speaking residents became U.S. citizens, but the struggle to achieve that citizenship was long and often unsuccessful. Mexican-Americans lost political power and civil liberties quickly in Texas. Justice was hard to secure and the ranching country of South Texas became a landless borderland for Anglo and Hispano alike. Cattle thieves were rampant. Mexicans and Mexican-Americans also had to endure a terror campaign by the Texas Rangers, the state’s leading law enforcement officers. One of those Rangers, N. A. Jennys described a complex pattern of ethnic conflict along the border in 1875 in his A Texas Ranger. The Rangers were founded in 1835 to fight Indians, formed a special corps in the Mexican War, and were re-established after the Civil War.
Labor leaders like Denis Kearney and H. L. Knight of California’s Workingmen’s Party often resorted to popular racist arguments to justify the exclusion of Chinese immigrants. In an 1878 address, Kearney and Knight described the Chinese as a race of “cheap working slaves” who undercut American living standards and thus should be banished from America’s shores. A few American labor leaders, mostly in the radical and socialist wing of the movement, were more sympathetic. In a letter to the Detroit Socialist in May 1878, B.E.G. Jewett argued that the slogan should not be that “the Chinese must go,” but that “the oppressors, money-mongers, . . . must go.” Though voices like Jewett were exceptional, they serve as reminders that some late nineteenth-century white Americans were able to pierce the veil of prejudice that men like Kearney and Knight erected against Asian immigrants.
On February 15, 1898, an explosion ripped through the American battleship Maine, anchored in Havana harbor, sinking the ship and killing 260 sailors. Americans responded with outrage, assuming that Spain, which controlled Cuba as a colony, had sunk the ship. Two months later, the slogan "Remember the Maine" carried the U.S. into war with Spain. In the midst of the hysteria, few Americans paid much attention to the report issued two weeks before the U.S. entry into the war by a Court of Inquiry appointed by President McKinley. The report stated that the committee could not definitively assign blame to Spain for the sinking of the Maine. Publishers such as William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer used their many newspapers to stir public opinion over the sinking of the Maine into a frenzy, hastenening U.S. entry into the conflict. This February 17, 1898, front page story from Pulitzer’s New York World suggested, on the basis of little evidence, the hand of the enemy in the destruction of the Maine.
On February 15, 1898, an explosion ripped through the American battleship Maine, sinking the ship and killing 260 sailors. Americans responded with outrage, assuming that Spain, which controlled Cuba as a colony, had sunk the ship. Two months later, the slogan "Remember the Maine" carried the U.S. into war with Spain. In the midst of the hysteria, few Americans paid much attention to the report issued two weeks before the U.S. entry into the war by a Court of Inquiry appointed by President McKinley. The report stated that the committee could not definitively assign blame to Spain for the sinking of the Maine. Many historians have focused on the role of the “yellow press” (sensationalist newspapers so named because they waged cutthroat circulation battles over comic strips like the popular “Yellow Kid”) in stirring up sentiment that propelled the U.S. into its first imperialist war. This editorial in William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal, from February 17, 1898, pointedly blamed Spain for the sinking of the Maine, providing an example of how the “yellow press” covered the incident.
On February 15, 1898, an explosion ripped through the American battleship Maine, anchored in Havana harbor, sinking the ship and killing 260 sailors. Americans responded with outrage, assuming that Spain, which controlled Cuba as a colony, had sunk the ship. By April, 1898, the slogan "Remember the Maine" carried the U.S. into war with Spain. In the midst of the hysteria, few Americans paid much attention to the report issued two weeks before the U.S. entry into the war by a Court of Inquiry appointed by President McKinley. The report stated that the committee could not definitively assign blame to Spain for the sinking of the Maine. Most historians have focused on the role of sensationalist newspapers in fomenting public support for U.S. entry into war with Spain, and perhaps even causing it by deliberately misleading the American public about the Maine explosion. But not all newspapers engaged in sensationalist coverage of the incident. This New York Times editorial, dated February 17, 1898, sounded a note of caution about blaming the Spanish government for the explosion.
The Spanish-American War in Motion Pictures, part of the American Memory collections of the Library of Congress, will prove an invaluable Web resource to scholars and students of early film, turn-of-the-century culture, and U.S. military, naval, imperial, and political history. It presents sixty-eight short films produced by the Edison Manufacturing Company and the American Mutoscope & Biograph Company between 1898 and 1901. Users can search for films alphabetically, topically, and by keyword and download them in multiple formats. A short descriptive summary accompanies each film to guide viewing.
During the U.S. war in the Philippines between 1899 and 1904 (which grew out of the Spanish-American War that had erupted in 1898), ordinary American soldiers shared the nationalist zeal of their commanders and pursued the Filipino “enemy” with brutality and sometimes outright lawlessness. Racism, which flourished in the United States in this period, led American soldiers to repeatedly assert their desire “to get at the niggers.” An anti-imperialist movement, which rejected annexation by the United States of former Spanish colonies like Puerto Rico and the Philippines, attempted to build opposition at home to the increasingly brutal war. Although few soldiers joined the anti-imperialist cause, their statements did sometimes provide ammunition for the opponents of annexation and war. In 1899, the Anti-Imperialist League published a pamphlet of Soldiers Letters, with the provocative subtitle: “Being Materials for a History of a War of Criminal Aggression.” Historian Jim Zwick notes that the publication “was immediately controversial. Supporters of the war discounted the accounts of atrocities as the boasting of soldiers wanting to impress their friends and families at home or, because the identities of some of the writers were withheld from publication, as outright fabrications.” But the brutal portrayal of the war that is found in these letters (excerpts from twenty-seven of them are included here) is supported in other accounts.
In 1898, the United States took control of the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico, intending to use it as a base for strategic naval operations. Most of the island’s 900,000 inhabitants welcomed the end of Spanish rule. But they were divided about the U.S. presence. Some hoped links with the United States would lead to increased trade and prosperity; others wanted total independence. Some who initially welcomed the United States quickly became disillusioned. Severo Tulier, a small farmer from Vega Baja, had to sell his farm in 1899; he worked first as a field laborer, and then moved to San Juan to learn a trade. He described the conditions of life among farm workers to Henry K. Carroll, the special commissioner for the United States to Puerto Rico, who interviewed hundreds of Puerto Ricans as part of his effort to formulate U.S. policy for governing the island.
“A Perfect Hailstorm of Bullets”: A Black Sergeant Remembers the Battle of San Juan Hill in 1899 by Frank Pullen
The best-known image of the Spanish-American War is that of Teddy Roosevelt on horseback charging with his Rough Riders up San Juan Hill in Cuba. But not only was the role of the Rough Riders exaggerated, it also displaced attention from the black soldiers who made up almost 25 percent of the U. S. force in Cuba. Indeed, the Spanish troops, who called the black soldiers “smoked Yankees,” were often more respectful of the black troops than were the white officers who commanded them. Here Sergeant-Major Frank W. Pullen, Jr. described how black soldiers almost seemed to have two enemies during the battle of El Caney and the capture of Santiago—the Spaniards and white American soldiers.
On February 15, 1898, an explosion ripped through the American battleship Maine, anchored in Havana Harbor, sinking the ship and killing 260 sailors. Americans responded with outrage, assuming that Spain, which controlled Cuba as a colony, had sunk the ship. Many newspapers presented Spanish culpability as fact, with headlines such as "The War Ship Maine was Split in Two by an Enemy’s Secret Infernal Machine.“ Two months later, the slogan ”Remember the Maine" carried the U.S. into war with Spain. In the midst of the hysteria, few Americans paid much attention to the report issued two weeks before the U.S. entry into the war by a Court of Inquiry appointed by President McKinley. The report stated that the committee could not definitively assign blame to Spain for the sinking of the Maine. In 1911, the Maine was raised in Havana harbor and a new board of inquiry again avoided a definite conclusion. In 1976, however, in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, Admiral Hyman Rickover conducted a new investigation. Rickover, something of a maverick in the Navy, came to the conclusion that the explosion was caused by spontaneous combustion in the ship’s coal bins, a problem that afflicted other ships of the period.
But controversy over the sinking of the Maine continues; some recent authors have, for example, rejected Rickover’s account and argued that rogue, anti-American Spanish officers used primitive mines to destroy the ship.
In February 1899, British novelist and poet Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem entitled “The White Man’s Burden: The United States and The Philippine Islands.” In this poem, Kipling urged the U.S. to take up the “burden” of empire, as had Britain and other European nations. Published in the February, 1899 issue of McClure’s Magazine, the poem coincided with the beginning of the Philippine-American War and U.S. Senate ratification of the treaty that placed Puerto Rico, Guam, Cuba, and the Philippines under American control. Theodore Roosevelt, soon to become vice-president and then president, copied the poem and sent it to his friend, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, commenting that it was “rather poor poetry, but good sense from the expansion point of view.” Not everyone was as favorably impressed as Roosevelt. The racialized notion of the “White Man’s burden” became a euphemism for imperialism, and many anti-imperialists couched their opposition in reaction to the phrase.
In February 1899, British novelist and poet Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem entitled “The White Man’s Burden: The United States and The Philippine Islands.” In this poem, Kipling urged the U.S. to take up the “burden” of empire, as had Britain and other European nations. Theodore Roosevelt, soon to become vice-president and then president, described it as “rather poor poetry, but good sense from the expansion point of view.” Not everyone was as favorably impressed as Roosevelt. In one of many parodies of “The White Man’s Burden” from the time, labor editor George McNeill penned the satirical “Poor Man’s Burden,” published in March, 1899.
In February 1899, British novelist and poet Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem entitled “The White Man’s Burden: The United States and The Philippine Islands.” In this poem, Kipling urged the U.S. to take up the “burden” of empire, as had Britain and other European nations. Theodore Roosevelt, soon to become vice-president and then president, described it as “rather poor poetry, but good sense from the expansion point of view.” Not everyone was as favorably impressed as Roosevelt. African Americans, among many others, objected to the notion of the “white man’s burden.” Among the dozens of replies to Kipling’s poem was “The Black Man’s Burden,” written by African-American clergyman and editor H. T. Johnson and published in April 1899. A “Black Man’s Burden Association” was even organized with the goal of demonstrating that mistreatment of brown people in the Philippines was an extension of the mistreatment of black Americans at home.
In 1899 Americans divided sharply over whether to annex the Philippines. Annexationists and anti-annexationists, despite their differences, generally agreed that the U.S. needed opportunities for commercial expansion but disagreed over how to achieve that goal. Few believed that the Philippines themselves offered a crucial commercial advantage to the U.S., but many saw them as a crucial way station to Asia. “Had we no interests in China,” noted one advocate of annexation, “the possession of the Philippines would be meaningless.” In the Paris Peace negotiations, President William McKinley demanded the Philippines to avoid giving them back to Spain or allowing a third power to take them. One explanation of his reasoning came from this report of a delegation of Methodist church leaders. The emphasis on McKinley’s religious inspiration for his imperialist commitments may have been colored by the religious beliefs of General James Rusling. But Rusling’s account of the islands, falling unbidden on the U.S., and the arguments for taking the islands reflect McKinley’s official correspondence on the topic. McKinley disingenuously disavowed the U.S. military action that brought the Philippines under U.S. control, and acknowledged, directly and indirectly, the equally powerful forces of racism, nationalism, and especially commercialism, that shaped American actions.
These documents are being scanned and will be offered in image and/or PDF format for viewing and printing, in searchable text format and MS Word format where possible. Paper and microfilm copies are available in Hamilton Library, at the call numbers listed below.
An On-line Archival Collection, Special Collections Library, Duke University.
Documents Relating to the Period 1901-1945
The San Francisco Building Trades Council (BTC), organized in 1898, actively participated in the anti-Asian agitation that characterized California politics, particularly labor politics, in the late-19th century. The BTC, like the national American Federation of Labor (AFL), argued that the very presence of Chinese (and, after 1900, Japanese and Korean immigrants as well) dragged down the living standards of white workers. The following excerpt is from a 1902 AFL pamphlet entitled Some Reasons for Chinese Exclusion: Meat vs. Rice, which called for a second extension of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. Despite the pamphlet’s disclaimer that it was not prejudiced, arguments were riddled with racist statements about the employment history and “Social Habits” of “John Chinaman.” The selections from the pamphlet reprinted here reflected the abiding beliefs of many white workers, especially skilled workers who belonged to the San Francisco BTC.
“I Just Loved that School”: Henrietta Chief Recalls an Indian Boarding School in the Early 20th century
In this 1970 interview with University of South Dakota historian Herbert Hoover, Henrietta Chief, A Winnebago, talks of her religious conversion at the Tomah School in the first decade of the 20th century. The Tomah school was one of the federal government’s off-reservation boarding schools, the linchpin of federal policy after 1887 to Americanize and assimilate Indian youth by removing them from their home environment and culture. Henrietta Chief’s conversion made her a fervent apostle of Christianity for the rest of her life.
The United States and the Mexican Revolution: “A Danger for All Latin American Countries,” Letters from Venustiano Carranza
In 1911, Mexicans overthrew a long-standing dictator and brought Francisco I. Madero to power. Two years later, a new repressive dictator, General Victoriano Huerta, deposed and murdered Madero. The Constitutionalists, led in part by liberal reformer VenustianoCarranza, undertook an armed revolt against Huerta’s rule. When President Woodrow Wilson took office in 1913, he refused to recognize Huerta’s counterrevolutionary government. Moreover, using the slim pretext of a minor insult to the U.S. Navy, Wilson sent troops into Vera Cruz, Mexico, in April 1914. Wilson’s strategy—to force Huerta out and gain the support of Venustiano Carranza—backfired, however, and anti-U.S. sentiment erupted throughout Mexico. Carranza wrote the following letters, printed in major Mexican newspapers, to the presidents of Argentina, Brazil, and Chile congratulating them for their solidarity with Mexico and warning of the dangers of U.S. intervention. (An English translation follows the original letters in Spanish.)
Largely at the behest of American bankers, U.S. marines occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934. By 1919, Haitian Charlemagne Péralte had organized more than a thousand cacos, or armed guerrillas, to militarily oppose the marine occupation. The marines responded to the resistance with a counterinsurgency campaign that razed villages, killed thousands of Haitians, and destroyed the livelihoods of even more. The military atrocities and abuse of power during the Caco War of 1919–1920 led to a U.S. Senate investigation into the occupation. In these excerpts from the “Inquiry into Occupation and Administration of Haiti,” the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Haiti and Santo Domingo interviewed Haitians about marine conduct in the guerrilla war against the cacos.
U.S. marines occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934. By 1919, Haitian Charlemagne Péralte had organized more than a thousand cacos, or armed guerrillas, to militarily oppose the marine occupation. The marines responded to the resistance with a counterinsurgency campaign that razed villages, killed thousands of Haitians, and destroyed the livelihoods of even more. American organizations such as the NAACP opposed the U.S. occupation of Haiti. They sent delegations that investigated conditions and protested the blatant racism and imperialism of U.S. policy in Haiti in the early 20th century. An article from 1920, by NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson, countered the standard justifications for U.S. occupation of Haiti.
In 1916, Francisco Villa, leader of the peasant uprisings in northern Mexico, raided Columbus, New Mexico, in an attempt to expose Mexican government collaboration with the United States. President Woodrow Wilson responded by ordering an invasion of Mexico. Five years after the beginning of the Mexican Revolution, which was characterized by hope for social change as well as death, hunger, and violence, many Mexicans did not welcome further involvement by the U.S. In the following correspondence, Secretary of State Robert Lansing and President Wilson described the need to carefully frame the invasion as a defense of U.S. borders rather than interference in the Mexican Revolution. The resulting invasion, led by General John Pershing, was a total fiasco. It failed to locate Villa and increased anti-U.S. sentiment and Mexican nationalist resolve.
The Mexican Revolution of 1911 was not well understood in the United States, but it found a place in numerous American novels, short stories, and silent films—albeit a clichéd and stereotypical one in which Mexicans often played the villains vanquished by heroic American cowboys. Such stereotypes of Mexicans dominated U.S. films about Mexico for much of the 20th century. Despite these negative stereotypes, Francisco Villa, leader of the peasant uprisings in northern Mexico, exploited American interest in the revolution for his own ends. A contract with a U.S. newsreel company—he agreed to fight his battles primarily during the day so they could be filmed—earned him money to buy weapons. He also granted interviews to prominent journalists, including the socialist John Reed. Reed’s June 1914 article in the Masses, “What About Mexico?,” opposed U.S. intervention and countered the negative images of Mexicans by portraying their struggle as brave and heroic.
By 1915, Americans began debating the need for military and economic preparations for war. Strong opposition to “preparedness” came from isolationists, socialists, pacifists, many Protestant ministers, German Americans, and Irish Americans (who were hostile to Britain). One of the hit songs of 1915, “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier,” by lyricist Alfred Bryan and composer Al Piantadosi, captured widespread American skepticism about joining in the European war. Meanwhile, interventionists and militarists like former president Theodore Roosevelt beat the drums for preparedness. Roosevelt’s retort to the popularity of the antiwar song was that it should be accompanied by the tune “I Didn’t Raise My Girl to Be a Mother.” He suggested that the place for women who opposed war was “in China—or by preference in a harem—and not in the United States.”
At the end of January 1917, the German government—desperate to break the stalemated trench warfare—announced that it would resume unrestricted submarine attacks. The United States broke diplomatic relations with Germany and further events pushed the nation even closer to war. On March 1, newspapers published a telegram from German foreign minister Arthur Zimmermann to the Mexican government, proposing a German-Mexican alliance against the United States. (For attacking the United States, the Mexicans would recoup lost territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.) Intercepted by the British, the telegram was published widely in American newspapers and inflamed popular opinion against the Germans.
On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson went before a joint session of Congress to seek a Declaration of War against Germany in order that the world “be made safe for democracy.” Four days later, Congress voted to declare war, with six senators and fifty congressmen dissenting. “It is a fearful thing,” he told Congress in his speech, “to lead this great peaceful people into war, into the most terrible and disastrous of all wars, civilization itself seeming to be in the balance.” Wilson did not exaggerate; in 1917 the war in Europe had already lasted two-and-a-half bloody years and had become one of the most murderous conflicts in human history. By the time the war ended a year and a half later, an entire generation was decimated—France alone lost half its men between the ages of twenty and thirty-two. The maimed bodies of millions of European men who survived bore mute testimony to the war’s savagery.
The events of the first few months of 1917, from the resumption of unrestricted submarine attacks to the Zimmerman telegram, broke the back of the antiwar movement and substantially increased enthusiasm for American intervention. But some dissident voices remained. Among the firmest congressional opponents was the progressive Wisconsin senator Robert M. La Follette. On April 4, 1917, two days after President Woodrow Wilson’s call for war, La Follette argued in this speech before Congress that the United States had not been even-handed in its treatment of British and German violations of American neutrality. A Republican senator from a state with a large agricultural and German-American population, La Follette worried that the war would divert attention from domestic reform efforts. But even in Wisconsin La Follette met opposition; the state legislature censured him, as did some of his longtime progressive allies. One of them said that he was “of more help to the Kaiser than a quarter of a million troops.”
The World War I Document Archive, authored and maintained by members of the World War I Military History online discussion group (wwi-l), is a treasure trove of research material. The site’s creators have posted or linked to several hundred historic documents; another section on Memoirs and Reminiscences gathers nearly a hundred works, including many full-length books uploaded in short segments of text that can be easily searched. (I only wish that the original pagination had been preserved.) While the reference apparatus is not yet fully developed (the Biographical Dictionary still lacks an entry on Woodrow Wilson), the primary source collections are unparalleled on the Web today and provide a wider range of original material than many university and college libraries can offer. The World War I Document Archive is heavy on diplomatic correspondence and treaties, military records, and matters of political economy; English-language sources predominate, although all the warring nations are represented.
With U.S. entry into World War I, President Woodrow Wilson appointed Herbert Hoover to head the newly created U.S. Food Administration. A mining engineer who had successfully organized the massive effort to get food to Belgium’s citizens after the German army’s sweep through that country in 1914, Hoover was now charged with managing domestic agriculture and conservation in order to feed the U.S. Army and assist Allied armies and civilians. “Food Will Win the War,” declared the Food Administration through its ubiquitous posters and publicity efforts. Planting gardens, observing voluntary rationing, avoiding waste—these efforts at food conservation all came to be known as “Hooverizing.” In a campaign sponsored by the Food Administration, Good Housekeeping magazine published a December 1917 editorial seeking recruits for an army of “kitchen soldiers.” The editorial portrayed women’s domestic work as part of the U.S. military effort and solicited women’s direct participation, asking readers to sign a pledge to conserve food.
During World War I, the United States fought a war of ideas with unprecedented ingenuity and organization. President Woodrow Wilson established the Committee on Public Information (CPI) to manage news and solicit widespread support for the war at home and abroad. Under the energetic direction of Mississippi newspaper editor George Creel, the CPI churned out national propaganda through diverse media including films, cartoons, and speeches. The CPI’s home-front propaganda cartoons were no laughing matter. The Bureau of Cartoons, headed by George Hecht, exhorted cartoonists to use their popular medium to support the war effort. Like other CPI pamphlets that urged Americans to integrate the war effort into their home and work lives, this excerpt from the CPI’s Bulletin for Cartoonists provided a mixture of suggestions, practical advice, and inspirational prose.
In the early 20th century, German Americans were the nation’s largest immigrant group. Although they were regarded as a model of successful assimilation, they faced vicious—and sometimes violent—attacks on their loyalty when the United States went to war against Germany in 1917. The most notorious incident was the lynching of German-born Robert Prager in Colinsville, Illinois, in April 1918. Other incidents stopped just short of murder. In a statement made on October 22, 1918, John Deml, a farmer in Outagamie County, a heavily German and Scandinavian area of Wisconsin, described the nativist mob that had visited him two days earlier. Suspected of not strongly enough supporting the war effort, he was narrowly saved from lynching.
When the United States went to war against Germany in 1917, German Americans faced vicious and unfair attacks on their loyalty. Many anti-German incidents were not recorded, but they lived on powerfully in people’s memories. In this 1976 interview, Lola Gamble Clyde, the daughter of an Irish-born Presbyterian minister and a teenager during World War I, described the “hysteria” that faced German Americans in rural Latah County, Idaho.
German Americans had a complex response to the attacks on their loyalty that emerged when the United States went to war against Germany in 1917. During and after the war, many German Americans began to conceal their ethnic identity—some changed their names; others stopped speaking German; still others quit German-American organizations. Many, like Frank Brocke, son of a German-American farmer, tried to keep a low profile. In this interview, Frank Brocke discussed his own assimilation (he later became the president of the local bank) which led him to justify the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II—a stance that many Japanese Americans and others would disclaim.
“Such Cases of Outrageous Unspeakable Abuse...”: A Puerto Rican Migrant Protests Labor Conditions During World War I by Rafael Marchán
In 1917 the United States declared the inhabitants of Puerto Rico, a U.S. posession since 1898, to be citizens of the United States—a “gift” that many Puerto Ricans resented. Seeing an untapped source of inexpensive labor, the U.S. Labor Department worked with industry to facilitate the migration of Puerto Rican workers to America. During the First World War the War Department agreed to transport Puerto Rican workers to labor camps in the United States where they would be housed and fed while working on government construction contracts at defense plants and military bases, many of which subjected the new migrants to harsh conditions and even forced labor. Rafael Marchán was one of a group of Puerto Rican workers at Fort Bragg in North Carolina who protested to the commissioner of Puerto Rico over the intolerable conditions in the work camp. He gave this deposition in Washington, D.C., in October 1918.
“The Hand of God” in the League of Nations: President Woodrow Wilson Presents the Treaty of Paris to the Senate
The dispute over whether or not to ratify the Versailles Treaty and approve American participation in the newly formed League of Nations became one of the sharpest foreign policy debates in American history. The League of Nations was President Woodrow Wilson’s great hope. He believed that the international organization would mitigate the failures of the Versailles Treaty while ensuring free trade, reducing reparations against Germany, extending self-determination beyond Europe, and punishing aggressor nations. On July 10, 1919, the president presented the 264-page Treaty of Paris to the U.S. Senate for ratification, including the controversial Article 10. Speaking in the style of an evangelical sermon, Wilson presented his case to Congress in this address. But the League faced bitter opposition and stirred nationwide debate. Warren G. Harding’s victory in the 1920 presidential election ended the debate and closed the door on American participation in the League of Nations.
“I Glanced Up—The Statue of Liberty!”: Emma Goldman Describes Her Deportation in the Era of the Red Scare
After World War I, a “red scare” gripped the United States. One reflection of this climate of hysteria was in the “Palmer raids” on radicals. Striking without warning and without warrants, Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer’s men smashed union offices and the headquarters of Communist and Socialist organizations. They concentrated whenever possible on aliens rather than citizens, because aliens had fewer rights. In December 1919, in their most famous act, Palmer’s agents seized 249 resident aliens. Those seized were placed on board a ship, the Buford, bound for the Soviet Union. Deportees included the feminist, anarchist, and writer Emma Goldman, who later recalled the deportation in her autobiography, Living My Life.
In 1924, Congress passed the Johnson-Reed Act (also known as the Immigration Act of 1924), which restricted immigration from many European nations and denied even a token quota to most Asians. The law barred all immigrants who were ineligible for citizenship, and all south and east Asians (including Indians, Japanese, and Chinese) had been deemed ineligible on racial grounds by a 1922 Supreme Court decision. Japan reacted particularly strongly to what it regarded as the insulting treatment of the Japanese under the new law. The Japanese organized consumer boycotts against American goods and demonstrated against American cultural practices like dancing. This Japan Times & Mail editorial, entitled “The Senate’s Declaration of War,” denounced the 1924 immigration law and speculated on the reasons for the decision. The paper suggested that the Senate “deliberately” sought to “insult” the Japanese.
In response to growing public opinion against the flow of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe in the years following World War I, Congress passed first the Quota Act of 1921 then the even more restrictive Immigration Act of 1924 (the Johnson-Reed Act). Initially, the 1924 law imposed a total quota on immigration of 165,000—less than 20 percent of the pre-World War I average. It based ceilings on the number of immigrants from any particular nation on the percentage of each nationality recorded in the 1890 census—a blatant effort to limit immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe, which mostly occurred after that date. In the first decade of the 20th century, an average of 200,000 Italians had entered the United States each year. With the 1924 Act, the annual quota for Italians was set at less than 4,000. This table shows the annual immigration quotas under the 1924 Immigration Act.
At the turn of the 20th century, unprecedented levels of immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe to the United States aroused public support for restrictive immigration laws. After World War I, which temporarily slowed immigration levels, anti-immigration sentiment rose again. Congress passed the Quota Act of 1921, limiting entrants from each nation to 3 percent of that nationality’s presence in the U.S. population as recorded by the 1910 census. As a result, immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe dropped to less than one-quarter of pre-World War I levels. Even more restrictive was the Immigration Act of 1924 (Johnson-Reed Act) that shaped American immigration policy until the 1960s. While it passed with only six dissenting votes, congressional debates over the Johnson-Reed Act revealed arguments on both sides of this question of American policy and national identity. For example, on April 8, 1924, Robert H. Clancy, a Republican congressman from Detroit with a large immigrant constituency, defended the “Americanism” of Jewish, Italian, and Polish immigrants and attacked the quota provisions of the bill as racially discriminatory and “un-American.”
At the turn of the 20th century, unprecedented levels of immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe to the United States aroused public support for restrictive immigration laws. After World War I, which temporarily slowed immigration levels, anti-immigration sentiment rose again. Congress passed the Quota Act of 1921, limiting entrants from each nation to 3 percent of that nationality’s presence in the U.S. population as recorded by the 1910 census. As a result, immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe dropped to less than one-quarter of pre-World War I levels. Even more restrictive was the Immigration Act of 1924 (Johnson-Reed Act) that shaped American immigration policy until the 1960s. During congressional debate over the 1924 Act, Senator Ellison DuRant Smith of South Carolina drew on the racist theories of Madison Grant to argue that immigration restriction was the only way to preserve existing American resources. Although blatant racists like Smith were in the minority in the Senate, almost all senators supported restriction, and the Johnson-Reed bill passed with only six dissenting votes.
By the early 20th century, U.S. companies dominated the economies of the five Central American republics, controlling most of the banana production, railroads, port facilities, mines, and banking institutions. This export-based economy also maintained a social hierarchy of a small number of large landowners and millions of landless peasants. Nicaragua offers a case study of both American domination of the region and local and international resistance to that domination. During the 19th century Nicaragua was among the main contenders for an interoceanic canal and thus drew major railroad and steamship investors from both Britain and the United States. The United States intervened in Nicaragua four times during the 1890s to protect U.S. economic interests during periods of political unrest. In 1912 U.S. marines landed once again to maintain a pro-American government; this occupation lasted until 1925. As this January 1927 memorandum submitted to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee indicated, Secretary of State Frank Kellogg justified U.S. occupation of Nicaragua on the basis of communist threats from Mexico and the Soviet Union. The United States brokered a peace treaty between Nicaraguan liberals and conservatives that allowed the two parties to share political power, but U.S. influence and economic power remained intact.
By the early 20th century, U.S. companies dominated the economies of the Central American republics, including Nicaragua, and controlled most of the banana production, railroads, port facilities, mines, and banking institutions. The United States intervened in Nicaragua repeatedly to protect U.S. economic interests. In 1912 U.S. marines landed once again to maintain a pro-American government; this occupation lasted until 1925. Augusto César Sandino, a nationalist and leader of Nicaraguan peasants and workers, refused to accept the U.S.-sponsored peace treaty that kept U.S. influence and economic power intact. He organized an army of peasants, workers, and Indians to resist thousands of U.S. marines and the U.S.-trained Nicaraguan National Guard. From 1927 to 1933 Sandino waged a successful guerrilla war against the United States with support from Mexican and other Latin American anti-imperialists. Inter-American solidarity was critical to Sandino’s success and a major fear of the United States. One non-Nicaraguan supporter of Sandino was Colombian journalist Alfonso Alexander Moncayo. This memoir by Moncayo described how Sandino deeply admired the Latin American independence leader Simón Bolívar. (An English translation follows the original text in Spanish.)
The “Monroe Doctrine” of 1823 warned European powers to stay out of Latin America, including Central America, which had a particular importance to the United States because of its proximity. By the early 20th century, U.S. companies dominated the economies of Central American republics, including Nicaragua, controlling most of the banana production, railroads, port facilities, mines, and banking institutions. The United States intervened in Nicaragua repeatedly to protect U.S. economic interests. In 1912 U.S. marines landed once again to maintain a pro-American government; this occupation lasted until 1925. Augusto César Sandino, a nationalist and leader of Nicaraguan peasants and workers, refused to accept the U.S.-sponsored peace treaty that kept U.S. influence and economic power intact. He organized an army of peasants, workers, and Indians to resist thousands of U.S. marines and the U.S.-trained Nicaraguan National Guard. Sandino’s 1933 proclamation called upon all the nations of Central America to oppose U.S. imperialism. From 1927 to 1933 Sandino waged a successful guerrilla war against the United States with support from Mexican and other Latin American anti-imperialists.
In 1933, newly elected President Franklin Roosevelt announced a “Good Neighbor Policy” that promised a more friendly and less interventionist policy toward Latin America. The policy was prompted as much by Latin American resistance to U.S. intervention as by the U.S. government’s benevolence. In 1937, the policy was put to the test when Bolivia charged that Standard Oil of New Jersey had defrauded the Bolivian government; Bolivia canceled the company’s oil drilling rights and confiscated its facilities. True to its new policy, the United States avoided military intervention and instead pressured Bolivia by withholding loans and technical assistance. The following year, a war of words erupted between the government of Mexico and the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey over who owned the rights to exploit a portion of Mexico’s oil reserves. After U.S. oil companies refused to accept the arbitration terms of the Mexican labor board, Mexican President Lázaro Cárdenas expropriated oil company properties worth an estimated half billion dollars. In The True Facts about the Expropriation of the Oil Companies' Properties in Mexico, the Mexican government clarified its position to the American public and justified expropriation of Standard Oil’s property.
In 1933, newly elected President Franklin Roosevelt announced a “Good Neighbor Policy” that promised a more friendly and less interventionist policy toward Latin America. The policy was prompted as much by Latin American resistance to U.S. intervention as by the U.S. government’s benevolence. In 1937, the policy was put to the test when Bolivia charged that Standard Oil of New Jersey had defrauded the Bolivian government; Bolivia canceled the company’s oil drilling rights and confiscated its facilities. True to its new policy, the United States avoided military intervention and instead pressured Bolivia by withholding loans and technical assistance. The following year, a war of words erupted between the government of Mexico and the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey over who owned the rights to exploit a portion of Mexico’s oil reserves. After U.S. oil companies refused to accept the arbitration terms of the Mexican labor board, Mexican President Lázaro Cárdenas expropriated oil company properties worth an estimated half billion dollars. In The Reply to Mexico, Standard Oil offered a vigorous response to the Mexican expropriation of its property in 1938.
John Collier’s appointment as Commissioner of Indian Affairs by Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 marked a radical reversal—in intention if not always in effect—in U.S. government policies toward American Indians that dated back to the 1887 Dawes Act. An idealistic social worker, Collier first encountered Indian culture when he visited Taos, New Mexico, in 1920, and found among the Pueblos there what he called a “Red Atlantis”—a model of living that integrated the needs of the individual with the group and that maintained traditional values. As Commissioner, Collier proposed a sweeping set of reforms to reverse the previous half century of federal policy. Although he could not win congressional backing for his most radical proposals, the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 dramatically changed policy by allowing tribal self-government and consolidating individual land allotments back into tribal hands. His 1938 report as Commissioner of Indian Affairs combined a frank indictment of the broken promises of the past with an insistence that the Indian Service, since 1933, had made a “concerted effort” to rectify those past mistakes.
John Collier’s appointment as Commissioner of Indian Affairs by Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 marked a radical reversal—in intention if not always in effect—in U.S. government policies toward American Indians that dated back to the 1887 Dawes Act. An idealistic social worker, Collier first encountered Indian culture when he visited Taos, New Mexico, in 1920, and found among the Pueblos there what he called a “Red Atlantis”—a model of living that integrated the needs of the individual with the group and that maintained traditional values. Although Collier could not win congressional backing for his most radical proposals, the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 dramatically changed policy by allowing tribal self-government and consolidating individual land allotments back into tribal hands. Collier set out his vision for what became known as the “Indian New Deal” in this 1934 article from the Literary Digest. Although he was sympathetic to Indians, he depicted them in a stereotypical manner.
The interwar peace movement was arguably the largest mass movement of the 1920s and 1930s, a mobilization often overlooked in the wake of the broad popular consensus that ultimately supported the U.S. involvement in World War II. The destruction wrought in World War I (known in the 1920s and 1930s as the “Great War”) and the cynical nationalist politics of the Versailles Treaty had left Americans disillusioned with the Wilsonian crusade to save the world for democracy. Senate investigations of war profiteering and shady dealings in the World War I munitions industry both expressed and deepened widespread skepticism about wars of ideals. On the right wing of the antiwar movement, Charles A. Lindbergh, popular hero of American aviation, was a champion of diehard isolationism and a prominent member of the America-First Committee, organized in September 1940. In this 1941 speech, he drew on a time-honored theme of American exceptionalism as he urged his listeners to avoid entanglements with Europe.
The interwar peace movement was arguably the largest mass movement of the 1920s and 1930s, a mobilization often overlooked in the wake of the broad popular consensus that ultimately supported the U.S. involvement in World War II. The destruction wrought in World War I (known in the 1920s and 1930s as the “Great War”) and the cynical nationalist politics of the Versailles Treaty had left Americans disillusioned with the Wilsonian crusade to save the world for democracy. Senate investigations of war profiteering and shady dealings in the World War I munitions industry both expressed and deepened widespread skepticism about wars of ideals. Charles Lindbergh, popular hero of American aviation, had been speaking in support of American neutrality for some time, and allies of FDR’s interventionist foreign policy sought to counter the arguments of the famous aviator. In a May 19, 1940, radio speech, Senator James F. Byrnes of South Carolina refuted Lindbergh’s position, specifically rebutting a speech Lindbergh had given on military spending.
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, stunned virtually everyone in the U.S. military: Japan’s carrier-launched bombers found Pearl Harbor totally unprepared. In this 1991 interview, conducted by John Terreo for the Montana Historical Society, serviceman Orville Quick, who was assigned to build airfields and was very near Pearl Harbor on December 6, 1941, remembers the attack. He also provided a vivid, and humorous, account of the chaos from a soldier’s point of view.
During World War II, a dozen female broadcasters, collectively dubbed “Tokyo Rose” by U.S. troops, provided a diversion from the horrors of war. Set up by the Japanese military and using the powerful signal of Radio Tokyo, these Tokyo Roses were on the air nightly, broadcasting English-language shows designed to make American soldiers and sailors nostalgic and homesick. One such Tokyo Rose, U.S. citizen Iva Ikuki Toguri D’Aquino, described her August 14, 1944, broadcast as “sweet propaganda” and played tunes whose titles (for example, “My Resistance Is Low”) were designed to demoralize her listeners. Although some soldiers and sailors may have felt the occasional twinge of homesickness while listening to Tokyo Rose’s broadcasts, most simply ignored the propaganda and insults while hoping to hear their favorite popular songs.
The Pacific theater was the most inhospitable environment in all of World War II, with all-out assaults that were unparalleled in their barbarity. The ferocity of the battles and the atrocities committed by both sides were further encouraged by the pervasive racism expressed by Americans toward the Japanese enemy. Fighting the war in the Pacific left indelible impressions on the men who served there. Because employees at the Library of Congress thought marines might have time to do ethnographic recordings of the music and culture of the native peoples they encountered in the South Pacific, several marine units were given metal disc recording machines to carry with them. Though they never managed to use the recorders for their intended purpose, several marines did have the presence of mind to record what happened during major battles at sea and on the islands. In one such recording, made on the island of Guam in 1944, an unidentified marine described his foxhole.
The surprise attack on December 7, 1941, on U.S. military forces at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, by the Japanese air force was quickly followed by a string of dazzling Japanese military forays. This Japanese “blitzkrieg” captured tens of thousands of Allied military personnel and civilians. Many were subjected to extraordinarily cruel treatment at the hands of the Japanese victors. One of the first and most important of these battles took place at Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, which U.S. marines invaded in August 1942. The Japanese forces on Guadalcanal managed to hold on to the island for five months, despite savage battles with the marines and a withering U.S. naval bombardment and blockade. Finally, as a simple poem by noncommissioned officer Yoshida Kashichi expressed, the Japanese forces were starved into submission, retreating from Guadalcanal in disarray on December 31, 1942.
In the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the declaration of war, thousands of Americans enlisted in the U.S. armed forces. Among them was twenty-year-old Bronx resident Ben Hurwitz. Like many of the men and women who entered military service, Hurwitz (who changed his name to Brown after the war) kept a record of his experiences. But his “journal” was a sketchpad, and, during his two years in North Africa and Italy, Corporal Hurwitz drew and painted at every opportunity. Hurwitz’s pictures are accompanied by the artist’s commentary transcribed by historian Joshua Brown in November 1996. Sketches used with permission of Eleanor A. Brown.
The American soldiers who liberated the Buchenwald Nazi concentration camp had powerful reactions to what they saw, often shaped by their own backgrounds. Leon Bass was a nineteen-year-old African-American sergeant serving in a segregated army unit when he encountered the “walking dead” of Buchenwald. Like many others, he tried to repress his memories of the horrors that he saw there and “never talked about it all.” But in the 1960s, while involved in the Civil Rights movement and teaching, he met a Holocaust survivor and felt moved to declare to his students that “I was there, I saw.” In this interview with Pam Sporn and her students, he linked the oppression of the Jews and other Nazi victims with the segregation and discrimination faced by African Americans.
The bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, 1945 stand out not just for the number of people killed—as many, or more, died in “firebombings” in Germany during the war—but for the strange, alien quality of the atom bomb’s effects. The atomic bomb’s immense destructive capacity staggered observers, and its effects have haunted the world’s imagination ever since. By the time the United States had a usable atomic bomb, the war in Europe was over, but thousands of American soldiers remained in the Pacific fighting the Japanese. Although some historians argue that the war could have been ended without the dropping of the bomb, in the summer of 1945 President Harry Truman made the fateful decision to proceed. In this dramatic radio address, Truman told the nation that a bomb had been dropped on the city of Hiroshima on August 6. Truman inaccurately described Hiroshima as a “military base.” It was the base of the Second General Headquarters of the Imperial Army, but civilians outnumbered army personnel by about six to one.
“Why Did We Have to Win It Twice?”: A Physicist Remembers His Work on the First Atomic Bomb by Bernard Feld
Those who built the atomic bomb at the secret Los Alamos, New Mexico, facility understood very well the potential for destruction and death they had created, though individual reactions of the scientists varied widely. Some argued that America needed to develop nuclear weapons before the Germans did. Others argued that a war against fascism demanded the most lethal measures. Still others, as they witnessed the blast on July 16, 1945, were appalled at what they had unleashed. In this excerpt from a 1980 interview, Bernard Feld recalled his work as a graduate student at Los Alamos. While he had few reservations about the bomb’s development and its first use at Hiroshima, he had profound reservations about using the second bomb against Nagasaki.
Documents Relating to the Period Since 1945
For four years after the U.S. dropped atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end World War II, America held a monopoly on the production of atomic weapons. During this period, debate centering on the use of nuclear bombs in future wars proliferated among government officials, scientists, religious leaders, and in the popular press. In the following article from Collier’s, former Navy lieutenant commander William H. Hessler, using data from the Strategic Bombing Survey, argued that saturation bombing of urban areas during World War II, while devastating for civilians, did not achieve war aims. A future atomic war, therefore, might well destroy cities but fail to stop enemy aggression. Furthermore, with a much higher urban concentration than the Soviet Union, the U.S. had more to lose from atomic warfare. The article, while providing detailed explanations of the bomb’s destructive capability, demonstrated the lack of information available regarding the long-term medical and ecological effects of radioactivity. Hessler’s prose also evoked both the fascination that gadgetry of atomic warfare held for Americans of the time and the fear many felt about the risks involved in putting this technology to use. On September 24, 1949, one week after publication of this article, news that the Russians had conducted atom bomb tests shocked the nation. The following April, a National Security Council report to President Harry S. Truman advised development of a hydrogen bomb—some 1,000 times more destructive than an atom bomb—and a massive buildup of non-nuclear defenses. The subsequent outbreak of war in Korea in June 1950 justified to many a substantial increase in defense spending.
On July 1, 1946, less than a year after dropping atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end World War II, the U.S. embarked on its first postwar atomic weapons test at the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. David Bradley, a physician and member of the Radiological Safety Unit at Bikini, voiced concern over dangers from radioactivity in his 1948 best-seller, No Place to Hide. In response to Bradley and other critics, the Atomic Energy Commission, the military, and other government agencies attempted to diffuse growing fears about radioactivity. The following Collier’s article by a military officer—using the same eyewitness-account format as in Bradley’s book—tried to persuade its readers that fears about “lingering radiation” were unfounded by documenting a test in the Nevada desert in which the military deliberately sent soldiers close to “ground zero” soon after an explosion. Some readers remained unconvinced; their published letters can be found following the article. In 1963, the U.S. and Soviet Union signed a treaty to halt atmospheric tests of nuclear weapons. By that time, some 300,000 U.S. military personnel and an unknown number of civilians in areas downwind from the test sites had been exposed to radiation. In subsequent years, studies revealed higher rates of leukemia, cancer, respiratory ailments, and other health problems among these groups. Underground atomic weapons tests continued at the Nevada Test Site until a moratorium was declared in 1992, after 928 nuclear tests.
“The Gravest Question of Our Time”: A Senator Lays Out Military Alternatives in the Post-Korean War Atomic Age
For four years after the U.S. dropped atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end World War II, America held a monopoly on the production of atomic weapons. On September 24, 1949, however, news of a Soviet Union nuclear weapons test shocked the nation. The following April, a National Security Council report to President Harry S. Truman advised development of a hydrogen bomb—some 1,000 times more destructive than an atom bomb—and a massive buildup of non-nuclear defenses. The subsequent outbreak of war in Korea in June 1950 justified to many increased defense spending. When fighting reached a stalemate, some in politics and the military—including General Douglas MacArthur, head of the Far East command—advocated the use of atomic weapons against targets in China. Although the Korean War was fought solely with conventional weapons, peace came only after the Eisenhower administration threatened to use nuclear weapons. Following the July 1953 armistice, government and military officials debated the place of nuclear weapons in future defense planning. In this January 1954 Collier’s article, Styles Bridges, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, laid out various proposals and assured citizens of their leaders' dedication “to finding the best solution.” Despite a test ban treaty in 1963—sparked in part by the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis that brought the U.S. and the Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear war—subsequent arms control agreements, and a vigorous nuclear freeze movement, the two superpowers nevertheless pursued an escalating arms race that reached a peak combined total of nearly 60,000 nuclear warheads by the late 1980s.
“Sometime Soon . . . the Free Nations Must Make Their Choice”: A Foreign Correspondent Analyzes U.S. Cold War Failures
The Truman Administration’s Cold War policy of containment advocated confronting the Soviet Union, in the words of diplomat George F. Kennan, “with unalterable counterforce at every point where they show signs of encroaching upon the interests of a peaceful and stable world.” In 1952, during the Korean War stalemate, John Foster Dulles authored the Republican Party platform’s foreign policy plank condemning containment. Dulles instead supported the “liberation” of countries within the communist sphere using any means “short of war.” When Republican nominee General Dwight D. Eisenhower won the presidency and Dulles became his secretary of state, however, containment remained the official U.S. policy. In 1954, as France was losing its battle to regain control of its prewar colony of Indochina—a war funded substantially with U.S. dollars—Congressional leaders refused to support an Eisenhower-Dulles resolution to intervene militarily. In the following opinion piece published just after the French defeat, correspondent Edgar Ansel Mowrer, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1933 for reporting on the rise of Hitler, offered a critique of containment and an analysis of U.S. options for fighting the Cold War. A great admirer of Dulles, Mowrer believed hopes for peaceful coexistence to be “the opium of the West.”
“Achieving an Atmosphere of Mutual Trust and Confidence”: Henry A. Wallace Offers an Alternative to Cold War Containment
Allies during World War II, the U.S. and the Soviet Union disagreed over a number of issues after the war. These included control of Eastern Europe, division of Germany, atomic energy, international loans, and the Middle East. On February 9, 1946, Soviet premier Josef Stalin asserted that the continued existence of capitalism in the West would inevitably lead to war. Foreign Service senior diplomat George Kennan sent President Harry Truman, still forming a Soviet policy, a lengthy telegram advocating containment. Commerce Secretary Henry A. Wallace—Secretary of Agriculture (1933–1941) and Vice-President from (1941–1945)—was one of the few liberal idealists in Truman’s cabinet. Wallace envisioned a “century of the common man” marked by global peace and prosperity. In the following excerpt from a letter dated July 23, 1946, Wallace urged Truman to build “mutual trust and confidence” in order to achieve “an enduring international order.” Truman asked Wallace to resign. In March 1947, Truman asked Congress for money “to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.” Thus articulated, the “Truman Doctrine” of containment served as the rationale for future American Cold War foreign policy initiatives.
This is a page of links to information and primary documents on the Marshall Plan, U.S. assistance to Western Europe after World War II in order to prevent the spread of communism throughout the continent. It is produced by the Library of Congress.
“We Must Keep the Labor Unions Clean”: “Friendly” HUAC Witnesses Ronald Reagan and Walt Disney Blame Hollywood Labor Conflicts on Communist Infiltration
During the 1930s, the dominant labor union in Hollywood, the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees Union (IATSE), was led by men with ties to organized crime. Studio heads also supported union leaders financially in order to inhibit strikes and keep labor cost increases low. After IATSE leaders were sentenced to prison terms for extortion, organizing drives by opposition labor groups began to surge. The Conference of Studio Unions (CSU), a craft union coalition headed by Herbert K. Sorrell, was founded in 1941 following a divisive, but successful strike against Walt Disney Productions by cartoonists aligned with Sorrell. During an eight-month CSU-led industry-wide strike in 1945, IATSE, aided by the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Values (MPA), a right-wing anticommunist industry group, launched a campaign to brand their rival as communistic. A further strike marked by police violence occurred the following year, and in 1947, with the cooperation of Screen Actors’ Guild president Ronald Reagan, the studio heads, MPA, and IATSE emerged victorious in the jurisdictional battle. In the following testimony before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC)—which the MPA had repeatedly urged to investigate subversives in the industry—Reagan and Disney portrayed the labor struggles solely in terms of a battle between forces for and against Communism.
This page is a joint project between the Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Libraries developed to provide access to Korean War materials related to the two administrations occupying the White House during that period.
The George Washington University has provided links to documents on the Cuban Missile Crisis as part of the university’s National Security Archive.
For the people of Vietnam, who were just beginning to recover from five years of ruthless economic exploitation by the Japanese, the end of World War II promised to bring eighty years of French control to a close. As the League for the Independence of Vietnam (Vietnam Doc Lap Dong Minh Hoi), better known as the Viet Minh, Vietnamese nationalists had fought against the Japanese invaders as well as the defeated French colonial authorities. With the support of rich and poor peasants, workers, businessmen, landlords, students, and intellectuals, the Viet Minh (led by Ho Chi Minh) had expanded throughout northern Vietnam where it established new local governments, redistributed some lands, and opened granaries to alleviate the famine. On September 2, 1945, Ho Chi Minh proclaimed the independent Democratic Republic of Vietnam in Hanoi’s Ba Dinh square. The first lines of his speech repeated verbatim the famous second paragraph of America’s 1776 Declaration of Independence.
In the following excerpt, Leslie Gelb, a State Department official during the Vietnam War and Defense Department official afterward, offered an insider’s appraisal to a Senate committee of the reasons for the U.S. involvement.
To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the fall of Phnom Penh and Saigon, the staff of the Gerald R. Ford Library reviewed for possible declassification nearly 40,000 pages of National Security Adviser files.
This site, developed around the course materials for Robert Brigham's senior seminar on the Viet Nam War at Vassar College, offers students an opportunity to examine some of those sources, including numerous official documents. Brigham was the first American scholar given access to the Vietnamese archives on the war in Hanoi. Included here are his translations of some of the Hanoi documents, offered for examination and study.
The mission of the Vietnam Center at Texas Tech University is to support and encourage research and education regarding all aspects of the American Vietnam experience; promoting a greater understanding of this experience and the peoples and cultures of Southeast Asia. Its functions are threefold: support for the Vietnam Archive and the collection and preservation of pertinent historical source material; promotion of education through exhibits, classroom instruction, educational programs, and publications; and encouragement of related scholarship through organizing and hosting conferences and symposia, academic, educational, and cultural exchanges, and the publishing of scholarly research.
In the rapid progression of the Pentagon Papers from newspaper revelation to court case to judgment by the Supreme Court of the United States during a few weeks in June 1971, the Nixon administration failed to stop the presses. The Justice Department made two major submissions to Courts on exactly what information in the history "United States-Vietnam Relations 1945-1967" was so sensitive that it justified keeping secret the entire forty-seven part history. One of these submissions was to the Supreme Court made by Erwin N. Griswold, Solicitor General of the United States, which identified 11 drop-dead secrets. The other, which Griswold incorporated into his text, was made in New York City to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which identified 17 irreparably damaging secrets.
Here the Archive examines the government's evidence, as opposed to its legal arguments and justifications, as to why it wanted the Department of Defense study to remain shrouded in a cloak of secrecy, with a detailed commentary with documents from the 11 and 17 separate claims.
Cold War Policies 1945-1991
For a list of documents relating to the Cold War, see this collection at http://history.sandiego.edu/gen/20th/coldwar0.html
Nikos Valence on Organizing Against the North American Free Trade Agreement
During the 1980’s and 1990’s international free trade agreements encouraged by the United States government increased the power and global reach of multinational corporations. The most controversial of these agreements, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), made it easier for U.S. companies to buy low cost goods from Mexico, which were often produced by U.S. subsidiaries that migrated to take advantage of low-cost labor. Organized labor and most liberal Democrats opposed NAFTA because they feared the loss of American jobs and the increased bargaining power of corporations who could easily transfer production overseas. As Nikos Valence, head of the Fair Trade Campaign, explained, these agreements also stimulated international labor solidarity, as workers in different countries struggled against the free reign of capital and in many cases against the same corporations.
China and the United States: From Hostility to Engagement, 1960-1998.
These documents, which include policy and research studies, intelligence estimates, diplomatic cables, and briefing materials, are published (with the exception of Document 15) in the the NSA's China and the United States: From Hostility to Engagement, 1960-1998 document set, part of the Archive's Special Collection Series. The following documents represent a small sample of the documents contained in the set.
Other Documents with Material Relevant to U.S. Foreign Relations
Indian Affairs: Law and Treaties
Charles J. Kappler, produced by the Oklahoma State University Library
Early Recognized Treaties with American Indian Nations,
University of Nebraska Libraries—Electronic Text Center
A comprehensive review and introduction to these sources, which encompass several of the time periods here, can be found at http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/1056/
Digital History: Using New Technologies to Enhance Teaching and Research
Steven Mintz and the University of Houston, in collaboration with the Chicago Historical Society; the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; American Voices: E Pluribus Unum; the National Park Service; and Teachers as Historians—Teaching American History.
Digital History is an ambitious and wide-ranging Web site that aims “to support the teaching of American History in K–12 schools and colleges” through multimedia and interactive content. As such, it takes full advantage of the Internet’s potential to offer students access to materials that transcend printed media. Central to Digital History's content is a wide-ranging selection of over three hundred annotated documents, covering U.S. history from Columbus to the Civil War, which has been culled from the Gilder Lehrman Collection and was originally published by Oxford University Press as The Boisterous Sea of Liberty in 1998 (edited by David Brion Davis and Steven Mintz).
Further discussion of the collection can be found at http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/1886/.
Congressional Quarterly Press.
Despite its name, Congressional Quarterly (cq) puts out everything but a quarterly. Its publications include cq Today, cq Almanac, Guide to Congress, Congress and the Nation, and cq Historic Documents, with many of these now available online. One need not be a congressional historian to appreciate cq. Researchers who deal with Congress have long since learned to turn first to its array of guides, but other historians dealing with practically any issue in modern times can likewise find in them an abundance of relevant information. Further discussion of resources can be found at http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/8160/.
National Archives and Records Administration Digital Classroom
Created and maintained by National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.
The National Archives is a treasure trove for teachers and students of U.S. history. More than 120,000 of its billions of records are available in digital copies on its Web site. Further information on the site can be found at http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/318/.
For a list of documents on a variety of topics covering the 19th century, see this list from Yale University’s Avalon Project: Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy.
American as World Leader: External Power is the title of the Internet Modern History Sourcebook on the topic which provides links to a great number of documents.
Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS). This digital facsimile of Foreign Relations of the United States is a project of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries in collaboration with the University of Illinois at Chicago Libraries. This is an incomplete run from 1861-1960 with missing volumes being added as they can be acquired and processed. If your library is interested in donating material for this project, please contact the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections Center.
Battle Lines: Letters from America’s Wars. This online exhibition of letters and audio, created by the Gilder Lehrman Institute and the Legacy Project, features correspondence from over 200 years of American conflicts, ranging from the Revolution to the war in Iraq. This exhibition uses the words of famous generals and lesser-known troops, as well as parents, sweethearts, and children, to explore such themes as leaving home, life in the military, the pride and worries of those left behind, and ultimate sacrifice.
United States and Brazil: Expanding Frontiers, Comparing Cultures. The United States and Brazil: Expanding Frontiers, Comparing Cultures explores the history of Brazil, interactions between Brazil and the United States from the eighteenth century to the present, and the parallels and contrasts between Brazilian and American culture and history. The project is a collaboration between the Library of Congress and the National Library of Brazil. Through the presentation in digital form of books, maps, prints and photographs, manuscripts and other documents from the collections of the partner libraries, this project illuminates five main themes related to the history of Brazil and the interactions between the United States and Brazil: Historical Foundations, Ethnic Diversity, Culture and Literature, Mutual Impressions, and Biodiversity.
Osher Map Library, Smith Center for Cartographic Education, University of Southern Maine. This is a collection of map exhibitions placed online, so the titles and dates refer to the exhibitions, not the maps themselves. The maps are mostly New England or connected to New England in some fashion, but there are some historical maps of Europe as well. An interesting collection for those who like using historical maps in their course.