Cash and Carry Neutrality

German Panzer I tanks near the city of Bydgoszcz, during the Invasion of Poland, September 1939.

IN THE space of five years Congress has presented us with an almost equal number of versions of a neutrality policy. The most recent, though I hesitate to say the last, became law on November 4, 1939. With the important exception that it raised the arms embargo, the new law, known commonly as the Pittman Act, is far and away the most restrictive and the most isolationist of the series. The purpose of the Pittman Act is to keep the United States from becoming involved in the present European war for the causes which allegedly led us into war in 1917. Every other consideration has been subordinated to that one. Our legislators felt that their aim could be accomplished by keeping our ships, our goods, our money, our citizens, and last and most important of all, our prestige, out of the European war zones.

From the viewpoint of our traditional American policy, legislation of this nature represents (with the one exception of Jefferson's policy of embargo and non-intercourse) a new departure. True, the preamble to the present law states that the United States "waives none of its own rights or privileges, or those of any of its nationals, under international law" and expressly reserves all such rights. The law then proceeds, however, to make it a crime for citizens to exercise them. Writing in 1916, President Wilson insisted that the maintenance of the rights which we are now "holding in abeyance" involved "the honor and self-respect of the nation." The United States, he said, could not yield them without "virtual surrender of her independent position among the nations of the world."

Today the country is taking a very different view. In the last war we discovered that having once asserted rights, we might then be faced with the choice of surrendering them or going to war. When such an issue is put to us in that way by a belligerent, we, a proud and powerful country, have little choice. In 1917 we fought. On such an

Loading, please wait...

Related Articles

This site uses cookies to improve your user experience. Click here to learn more.