American Military and Diplomatic History from 1865 to the Present

Josiah Strong, from Our Country (1885)
Strong, like others, believed the Anglo-Saxon people were superior to non-Christian, non-white peoples, and that it was the responsibility of the United States to spread its way of life. Our Country is the articulation of so-called missionary expansionism.

Josiah Strong, Our Country (1885)
Some Americans viewed expansion overseas as both cultural destiny and religious duty. Mixing racist belief in the superiority of Anglo-Saxons, the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin, and Christian commitment to missionary work, the Reverend Josiah Strong (1847–1916) helped stimulate the nation’s interest in expansion in his best-seller Our Country.

Henry Cabot Lodge, “The Business World vs. the Politicians” (1895)
Massachusetts Republican Senator Henry Cabot Lodge derided Democratic President Grover Cleveland for not pursuing a sufficiently expansionist foreign policy. According to Lodge’s article in the March 1895 issue of The Forum, a national journal, assertiveness in both the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean not only would fulfill vital commercial needs but would be the logical extension of past American policy and experience.

Albert Beveridge, "The March of the Flag" (1898)
Albert Beveridge, a Republican senator from Indiana, was one of the leading spokesmen for a strongly expansionist foreign policy. In this address, which was widely read during the period, Beveridge merged prevalent opinions about America’s civilizing mission with its economic destiny.

William Graham Sumner, from "On Empire and the Philippines" (1898)
"On Empire and the Philippines," the essay from which this extract comes, was written in 1898 and was published in Sumner’s War and Other Essays. Known as a social Darwinist, Sumner was also an ardent anti-imperialist. After entering Yale as a student in 1859, Sumner studied abroad after graduation, and returned to teach at his alma mater until his death in 1910.

William McKinley, "Decision on the Philippines" (1900)
In this speech to a group of ministers, the president outlined his rationale for deciding to annex the Philippines, paying the Spanish (under duress) $20 million for the privilege. It was a difficult decision, and a decision that determined the path of American foreign policy for much of the next century.

Theodore Roosevelt, Third Annual Message to Congress (1903)
One of the nation’s leading proponents of an aggressive foreign policy, Theodore Roosevelt made the most of his opportunity when he was elevated to the presidency after William McKinley’s assassination in 1901. In his third annual message he assessed America’s foreign affairs and recounted his version of how the United States came into possession of the territory needed to construct the Panama Canal.

Boy Scouts of America from, "Boy Scouts Support the War Effort" (1917)
This is a selection from a pamphlet published by the Boy Scouts of America. The pamphlet encourages vigilantism and loyalty checks, among other "patriotic" measures. Many Americans became formal or informal loyalty enforcers during the World War I and many individuals were sent to prison for published or unpublished criticisms of the war efforts or Wilson’s policies. The Boy Scouts played an important role on the home front, which included planting vegetable gardens and recycling.

Eugene Kennedy, A "Doughboy" Describes the Fighting Front (1918)
This selection from the dairy of Eugene Kennedy describes life on the front lines in Europe. American soldiers were often poorly equipped and ill-fed, as this doughboy reports.

Woodrow Wilson, The Fourteen Points (1918)
Included here are Wilson’s Fourteen Points, presented as a speech to Congress on January 8, 1918, designed to make the world safe for all people and formulate the agenda for postwar peace negotiations.

Mark Twain, "Incident in the Philippines" (1924)
This is an excerpt from Mark Twain’s autobiography, a haphazard affair undertaken in 1906 but unprinted until Twain’s manuscripts were compiled by A. B. Paine and published in 1924. In this piece Twain reported some of the horrors reported from the Philippines, where American soldiers responded to a guerrilla war by destroying property, attacking civilians, and raping Filipino women.

Albert Einstein, Letter to President Roosevelt (1939)
This letter from Albert Einstein warned Franklin Roosevelt that German researchers were close to making an atomic bomb. Inspired by Einstein (and his fellow scientists), Roosevelt organized a secret project (known later as the Manhattan project), to ensure that the United States had a bomb before Germany. In later life, Albert Einstein, committed to peace, regretted sending this letter.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, The Four Freedoms (1941)
This selection from Roosevelt’s annual address to Congress is his argument for American involvement in the war, tied to his Lend-Lease act which provided military supplies for England. Many Americans, including the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh, were isolationist and pacifist and believed intervention would be futile and that the United States should remain uninvolved in European wars.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Annual Message to Congress (1941)
By June 1940, the Nazi war machine had conquered nearly all of Europe, including France, and had succeeded in driving British forces off the continent. President Roosevelt responded by announcing, over isolationist opposition, a series of measures intended to aid Great Britain. In his annual message to Congress in January 1941, Roosevelt urged legislators to repudiate the neutrality acts and enact a measure that would permit the United States to lend and lease goods and munitions to countries fighting the aggressor nations. Roosevelt concluded the speech with a list of four essential freedoms, which many Americans accepted as the basic ideals that they would fight to defend.

Charles Lindbergh, Radio Address (1941)
In 1940 a group of isolationists organized the America First Committee to protest the United States drift toward intervention in the European war. The organization attracted individuals of all political persuasions, including aviator Charles Lindbergh, socialist organizer Norman Thomas, conservative Senator Robert Taft, of Ohio, and liberal educator Robert Hutchins. In April 1941, Lindbergh delivered the following radio address in which he outlined the major reasons why the United States should pursue a course of noninvolvement.

Kenneth MacFarland, “The Unfinished Work” (1946)
Within a year of the Allied victory, many social commentators observed that Americans feared for their country’s security and doubted its ability to solve its own problems. In the following radio address delivered in September 1946, Kenneth MacFarland, superintendent of schools in Topeka, Kansas, sounds this note of despair. Like many Americans, MacFarland believed that well-organized, well-financed Communists had infiltrated and risen to powerful positions within U.S. society and were plotting to subvert the postwar recovery. He urged Americans to rededicate themselves to the principles of democracy and demonstrate to the world that those ideals, not those of the collectivist Soviet Union, offered the best hope for peace and prosperity.

George F. Kennan, “Long Telegram” (1946)
George Kennan, chargé d’affaires at the U.S. embassy in Moscow, won acclaim for his analysis of Soviet conduct. In his famous “Long Telegram” of February 1946, Kennan argued that Soviet leaders would pursue a policy of aggression in order to justify their own autocratic rule at home. Kennan insisted that the United States could contain Soviet imperialism by fostering viable democratic states outside the Communist bloc. Kennan’s telegram established the framework for the U.S. strategy of containment. As President Harry Truman proclaimed in 1947, “it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressure.”

Harry S Truman, The Truman Doctrine (1947)
World War II left Europe economically devastated and politically unstable. Early in 1947, it appeared that Turkey and Greece would fall under Soviet influence. In this famous speech, Truman outlines his support for a policy of aggressive containment of the Soviet Union not only in Turkey and Greece, but all over the world. In the words of his secretary of state, Dean Acheson, the Truman administration worried that "like apples in a barrel infected by one rotten one, the corruption of Greece would infect Iran and all of the east."

George Marshall, The Marshall Plan (1947)
In this speech, delivered at the Harvard University commencement in 1947, Secretary of State Marshall articulated a plan for American aid to Europe. The plan was designed to fill the power vacuum in Europe and to help Europe reconstruct itself after the devastation of war. Marshall even extended the promise of aid to the Soviet-dominated countries of Eastern Europe. The program was remarkably successful and by the early 1950s the Western European economy was much recovered.

National Security Council Memorandum Number 68 (1950)
In response to a presidential directive to reassess U.S. strategic policy, a group of analysts in the State and Defense Departments issued National Security Council Memorandum Number 68 (NSC-68) in 1950. When the Soviet Union acquired atomic technology in 1949, planners in Washington began to doubt earlier assessments that the Soviet Union would never initiate a war against the United States. The authors of NSC-68 projected that by 1954 the Soviet Union would possess the capability to start a war with reasonable prospects of winning. NSC-68 recommended that the United States pursue a course of massive military expansion, including stockpiling atomic weapons. The outbreak of hostilities in Korea in 1950 seemed to confirm the validity of the analysis presented in NSC-68, and the White House approved it as official policy. By late 1950, the United States had committed itself to the largest peacetime military buildup in the country’s history.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Decision Not to Intervene at Dien Bien Phu (1954)
Initially, Eisenhower considered coming to the aid of the French at Dien Bien Phu. However, he insisted that in order to obtain American assistance, the French had to internationalize the war and to promise freedom for Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam if and when the communists were defeated. The French would not agree to Eisenhower’s terms, so Eisenhower refused to commit American forces. The first document is from a letter Eisenhower wrote on April 26, 1954 to Alfred Gruenther, who was on Eisenhower’s staff during World War II, served as Ike’s chief of staff at NATO, and later was himself Supreme Allied Commander of NATO forces. The second document is an excerpt from a letter Eisenhower wrote to Swede Hazlett, a boyhood friend, with whom Eisenhower corresponded in long, frank, and revealing letters. This letter was written the day after the letter to Gruenther. The third document comes from the diary kept by James C. Hagerty, Eisenhower’s press secretary. The excerpt is from the entry for April 26, 1954.

Transcript of Excomm Meeting (1962)
This is an excerpt from the transcript of one of President Kennedy’s Executive Committee (Excomm) meetings on October 16, 1962. Kennedy secretly taped the proceedings of these, and other, meetings during his presidency. Present at the meeting are Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara; Robert F. Kennedy, the president’s brother and the U.S. Attorney General; McGeorge Bundy, a national security affairs officer; and various other national security advisors and defense department officials.

John F. Kennedy, Cuban Missile Address (1962)
This is an excerpt from the television address President Kennedy gave on October 22, 1962, to the American people, letting them know about the security threat posed by the Soviets in Cuba and his willingness to take strong aggressive action against it. It is interesting to note that while all this transpired the Soviet Union already had missiles stationed in Siberia which were within range of the West Coast and that the United States had missiles in Europe that were certainly within range of the Soviet Union’s major population centers.

The Tonkin Gulf Incident (1964)
In August 1964, President Lyndon Johnson declared that an American destroyer had been fired upon while sailing in international waters in the Gulf of Tonkin off northern Vietnam. Not until later was it revealed that the destroyer had really been in North Vietnamese territorial waters-just thirty miles from shore-assisting South Vietnamese soldiers. Included here are the text of Johnson’s message to Congress requesting support for increased involvement and the Congress’s resolution granting it, which passed in the House 416-0 and the Senate 88-2.

Ronald Reagan, Speech to the House of Commons (1982)
Ronald Reagan gave this speech, dubbed the "evil empire" speech for its description of the Soviet Union, to the British House of Commons while there in 1982. As president, Reagan portrayed himself as tough on communism and increased military spending dramatically while in office. This speech showcases his fabulous speechmaking abilities - his use of humor, humanizing anecdotes, and aggressive anticommunism.

Ronald Reagan, Address to the National Association of Evangelicals (1983)
President Reagan’s initial policy toward the Soviet Union put a low priority on arms control. Remarks by key officials in the State Department about firing nuclear “warning shots” and devising strategies for surviving a nuclear attack earned the administration a reputation for irresponsibility on arms control. By 1982 public concern over the danger of nuclear war had mounted, spawning a movement to put a “freeze” on the testing, production, and deployment of nuclear weapons. In the following address before the National Association of Evangelicals in Orlando, Florida, Reagan responded to “freeze” advocates, arguing that it would encourage the expansionist designs of the “evil empire.”

Bill Chappell, Speech to the American Security Council Foundation (1985)
When President Ronald Reagan assumed the presidency, he pledged to strengthen the military and modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal. A cornerstone of that strategy was the development of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), popularly called “Star Wars.” The Reagan administration touted SDI as a viable system of defense that would, in Reagan’s words, render Soviet “nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete.” In the following speech, Representative Bill Chappell (R-FL) defends SDI as integral to achieving peace through strength.

George Bush, Address to the Nation Announcing Allied Military Action in the Persian Gulf (1991)
In August 1990, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein sent troops into neighboring Kuwait. Both countries were oil-rich, and Saddam hoped that he would be able to take-over Kuwait’s oil reserves and make back some of the funds he had lost during the disastrous war with Iran in the 1980s. A worldwide coalition, led by the United States, was formed to counter Iraq and push it out of Kuwait, which it did after a five-month standoff. The war was considered a success, although Saddam Hussein remained in power and the region remained somewhat unstable. In this address, President Bush announced that military action in the Gulf had begun. The president spoke from the Oval Office and his address was broadcast live on radio and television.