embodied the notion of America as the ultimate source of light and path towardsmodernization
.In other words, possession of overseas territories in Latin America and elsewhere was notseen as conquest but rather a righteous deed, morally above the childish European colonialsquabbles. Even if not always explicitly articulated, this sense of superiority persisted in subsequentU.S. attitudes towards Europe. America imbued itself with divine qualities. Talking aboutnegotiations with Europe on the Versailles Treaty, President Woodrow Wilson said, “If I didn’t feel I was the personal instrument of God, I couldn’t have carried on.”
Announcing the “Shoot on Sight”policy and later during his war message to Congress, Franklin Roosevelt described Americans as “afree people conscious of their duty” who would “stand their ground against this latest assault upontheir democracy, their sovereignty, and their freedom”, while also invoking divine guidance - “so helpus God.”
Yet, the United States had been reluctant to get dragged into both wars, attempting toremain neutral for as long as possible. Experience from WWI led to an explicit Neutrality Act of 1935 during the Second World War, stopping exports to all belligerents. America only entered the wars when it seemed that force was the only means of halting German aggression as well as, during WWII, Japan’s militaristic vision of a “new order in Asia”
that threatened ideas of nationalsovereignty, the Open Door policy and ultimately American security with its unprecedented attack onPearl Harbor.It might seem that U.S. action was more a response to external economic and security threats. But an ideological rationale was always present – the desire to shape the post-war worldorder, both economically and politically. America viewed itself as a force for good, helping to
The U.S. is personified as Lady Columbia, wearing the “Star of Empire” on her forehead and ushering bothsavage natives and settlers from darkness into light. She carries with her a schoolbook (symbol of civilizationand enlightenment) and a telegraph pole, representing America’s technological advancements.
Quoted from Professor Bradley Simpson, HIS 380 lecture, Princeton University, 30 Sept 2010.
Merrill, Dennis and Thomas G. Paterson, “Chapter 4 U.S. Entry into World War II”,
Major Problems in American Foreign Relations, Volume II: Since 1914, Seventh Edition
, Wadsworth Cengage Learning (Boston, MA:2010).