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Chapter V: Foreign Affairs and National Defense


My father's membership on the House UnAmerican Activities Committee and his authorship of the Voorhis Act reflected his deep-seated pacifism and anti-interventionism. He was anti-interventionist during World War I, in the early stages of World War II, and during the Vietnam War. He hated jingoism and imperialism, especially in the United States.

During the years between 1937 and Pearl Harbor, my father was a military isolationist. Although there was and is nothing wrong with that, unfortunately, in American political parlance, the word isolationist has become a pejorative term. This is harmful. If America had been militarily isolationist in the 1960s, there would never have been a Vietnam War. Sweden and Switzerland have been militarily isolationist for almost 200 years. My father abhorred the horrors of the First World War and its aftermath. He pledged himself to do everything he could to prevent American involvement in another world conflict while he was in Congress.

As part of his anti-interventionism, my father favored a strict adherence to the Neutrality Acts of 1935 and 1937. For example, he vigorously opposed any attempt to modify the arms embargo provisions of the Neutrality Act in order to aid the loyalists during the Spanish Civil War. The Neutrality Act empowered the President to impose an arms embargo on the shipment of arms or munitions to any belligerent in a foreign conflict. It also forbade the travel of Americans on belligerent passenger ships and the lending or investment of money in enterprises which were controlled by or loyal to a belligerent power.

My father favored what became U.S. Government policy: a strict prohibition on arms shipments or other assistance to either side in the Spanish Civil War. As it turned out, our policy of neutrality regarding Spain' 5 Civil War was the only correct course of action. If America had aided the divided and confused loyalist or republican government, it probably would not have prevented General Franco's victory. Upon assuming complete control of Spain, Franco might have become an implacable enemy of the United States and Britain if they had actively helped the loyalists. This could have brought about an alliance between Franco and Hitler. Such a development would have made the liberation of Europe much more difficult. A neutral and basically pro-Western, albeit falangist Spain, was a boon to the Western Allies, and it contributed immensely to a shortening of the War.

Another important contribution of my father in the field of foreign affairs was his advocacy of the Ludlow Amendment. This proposed Amendment would have required a national referendum before Congress could declare war, except in case of an invasion of U. S. territory. My father, along with most peace-minded members of the House, voted for the Resolution embodying the Ludlow Amendment when it came up for a vote in January 1938. The Resolution was vigorously opposed by the then openly interventionist Roosevelt Administration and its supporters in Congress. This was the first major rift between my father and FDR, and it would be followed by other points of disagreement later, especially in the fields of foreign and military affairs. His vote on the Ludlow Amendment showed that my father was not a down-the-line supporter of the New Deal.

On November 2, 1939, after War in Europe had already begun with Nazi Germany's conquest of Poland, my father continued to support strict neutrality. On that day, the House of Representatives voted on whether to keep the arms embargo and loan prohibition provisions of the old Neutrality Act. My father voted with 181 other members of the House to maintain the arms embargo. He also voted with a similarly large number of Congressional colleagues to keep the prohibition on loans to the belligerents. Both of these attempts to preserve the old Neutrality Act failed, mainly because the Roosevelt Administration wanted them to be replaced by a new, more flexible Neutrality Act. The new 1939 Neutrality Act, in accordance with the wishes of the Roosevelt Administration, did away with the arms and loan embargoes. However, it did preserve the old prohibition against U. S. ships sailing into war zones. Belligerent countries like Britain could buy arms in the United States, but it would be on cash-and-carry basis; that is, British firms would have to pay cash for American goods and they would have to carry them in their own ships. This cash-and-carry policy remained in effect until the Lend-Lease Act was passed in March of 1941.

My father's voting record was strongly anti-interventionist. But there were instances where he voted with the Roosevelt Administration. For example, he favored U. S. Naval expansion and improvement. He did this in the belief that a strong U. S. Navy would prevent America from getting involved in a future war. He also voted in favor of the first Selective Service Act during the summer of 1940. This was shortly following the German conquest of France. Finally, my father cast his vote in favor of the Lend-Lease law in March 1941. However, with those three exceptions, my father generally voted with leading anti-New Deal isolationists, like Republicans John Taber and Hamilton Fish of Upstate New York, Clare Hoffman of Michigan, Karl Mundt of South Dakota, and Harold Knutson of Minnesota. My father had little in common with these conservative Republicans on other issues, but he had no reluctance to vote with them and against the Roosevelt Administration on the all important issues of peace and neutrality.

On August 12, 1941, my father voted against an extension of the draft, or Selective Service. In voting this way he was motivated by two factors: Jeffersonian individualism and opposition to U.S. involvement in the World War. His first argument against extending the military draft another year was based on the Administration's initial promise in 1940 that Selective Service would last only one year. My father believed Congress would be breaking its faith with the American people and especially with the young men who were drafted if it extended Selective Service. To my father, like Jefferson, government was a social contract between the state and its citizens, and the nation's leaders must keep their word and credibility with the electorate. His second reason for opposing extension of Selective Service was his belief, as expressed during the debate, that the nation was in no immediate danger of attack. This was in August 1941. Such an argument reflected the view of most members of Congress and the public that the wars in Europe and Asia were far away. Despite the fact that U. S. troops were occupying Greenland and Iceland, and despite the use of American Naval vessels for convoy duty in the North Atlantic1 and despite Japanese advances in China and Indochina, most Americans, my father included1 believed that this country was isolated from those conflicts by the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Pearl Harbor cannot be overemphasized as a shock to the American Congress and public. It made my father, Senator Arthur Vandenberg, and many other Congressmen and Senators with isolationist leanings, interventionists out of necessity. However, during and following the War, my father's anti-war and anti-imperialist inclinations would again make themselves felt.

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