The Charlotte News



Hell-Bent For War

In this gloves-off treatment, Cash displayed the urgent frustration he experienced after the fall of France when his pro-British editorials appeared month in and month out on the same page with the syndicated isolationism of General Hugh S. "Ironpants" Johnson. Moreover, Cash clearly saw at the time what historians have since ratified by consensus—that "no man could have re-armed the nation between 1932 and 1940." As a refutation of isolationism, this review is a perfect period piece in the pre-World War II Great Debate.

--Note from W.J. Cash: Southern Prophet by Joseph L. Morrison
(This article appeared in the Reader section of Prophet.)


GENERAL Hugh S. Johnson, otherwise Ironpants, has re-hashed some of his recent columns into a little book of 155 pages under the title of "Hell-bent for War." It is published by Bobbs-Merrill at $1.50 in case you are interested in hearing it all over again. The General, as everyone knows, is a bitter-end isolationist. Isolationism is the philosophy which has it that what happens in the world outside our own borders is not the slightest concern of ours, and that we have no responsibilities in the world scheme. All we need to do, it holds, is to pull our borders in around us and let the world go hang. It is the philosophy sold to the country at the end of the last war by Borah, Reed, Lodge, Hiram Johnson & Co., partly out of provincialism, partly out of partisan and personal spite toward Mr. Wilson.

It called and still calls itself hard-boiled, but it is in fact the most unrealistic philosophy which ever duped a people. For at one and the same time it told the world to go jump in the lake, enacted politics which were sure to wreck the world and make it our deadly enemy, and—disarmed.

Ironpants, of course, maintains that he didn't want to disarm. On the contrary, he says, he has continually preached rearmament and blames Mr. Roosevelt for our present state.

As a former Army officer he probably didn't, in fact, want to disarm. But he coolly overlooks the fact that the way isolationism was sold to the country was by representing to the people that we were not in danger of any attack, had never been, and weren't going to be. The claim that the German menace was a pure myth was the bedrock upon which isolationism was ultimately based. And the American people consented to disarm precisely because they had been persuaded that isolationism in itself was quite sufficient protection. All we had to do was to stay at home, mind our own business, and there would be no trouble.

The charge that Mr. Roosevelt is responsible for the present disarmed state of the country is a vicious distortion of the facts. The psychology of the country was such that no man could have re- armed the nation between 1932 and 1940. Mr. Roosevelt's constant attempts to increase naval appropriations were hamstrung by both Republicans and Democrats. And whenever he sought to arouse the nation to the rising danger of Hitlerism, as at Chicago in 1937, Ironpants led the nation in roaring "warmonger!" The President was simply an excitable hysteric—so Ironpants argued. And so the people thought, quite reasonably, "since there is no danger, why arm?"

Isolationism has now brought us to the most dangerous pass in our history. But Ironpants has no intention of admitting it, since that would be to confess that General Hugh S. Johnson has been wrong—an unthinkable thing in the Ironpants code. And so he goes roaring up and down the land that there is no real danger to us, and convincing many millions—perhaps will go on convincing them until it is everlastingly and fatally too late.

Ironpants now asserts that he favors all aid to Britain which will not "cripple" our own defense. That really means exactly no aid. For the record of his column shows that he has uniformly inveighed against every move to aid Britain, from the first sale of arms right on down to the Lend-Lease Bill.

The General is more candid when it comes to question of letting Britain fall or aiding her. He says flatly that he thinks we will not be seriously hurt by the fall of Britain. And he sneers loudly at the idea that the Monroe Doctrine has rested partly on British sea power. One thing is clear: either the late great Captain A. T. Mahan didn't know what he was talking about or Ironpants doesn't. For ourselves we prefer to go along with Mahan. Ironpants, after all, trained as a naval expert on a horse.

Can we live with Hitler? Emphatically yes, says the General. In fact, we probably shall get rolling rich by living with him. But what about his slave labor competition? Pooh-pooh, says Ironpants, is anybody going to say that the great American system can't meet any competition? "Shame!" he cries. That is a fine appeal to chauvinism but it hasn't much sense in it. Anybody who knows anything about our record in international trade ever since the Civil War knows that we have increasingly failed to meet even the free-labor competition of other nations.

Altogether, a bad, misleading, and, in these times, even a dangerous book.

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