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The U.S. Isolationism Paradox

“America First”. Two words that offer a sense of pride in their nation to some, while presenting a jarring ideal fraught with selfish intentions for others. Needless to say, this polarizing phrase is one recognized as the current mantra for the bulk of the executive actions carried out in the past weeks in the United States.

Isolationism in the United States has proven to be a tried and true building block of values “typical” to the United States. However, just as you can’t stick two incompatible puzzle pieces together and expect them to seamlessly integrate themselves, the United States and “isolationist” cannot be put together without offering an explicit paradox that has consistently placed a roadblock in front of the supposed destiny of the nation throughout history.

The post World War I United States offered an unexpectedly decisive point in history for the United States. While aspects of the economy, social order, and the The crash of the stock market on “Black Tuesday” took priority in the mind of the average person in the United States. At the time, 2 out of 5 dollars loaned by banks in the United States were used to buy stocks. The sudden and devastating fall of the stock market caused the loss of $25 billion dollars- the equivalent of a hefty $319 billion in 2017. This precursor to The Great Depression shook the nation where it need not be shook: in its pockets. Whether they liked it or not, foreign policy was not something that anyone, common person or government official- could afford to give attention to.

So came the rise of U.S. isolationism.

Inter-war Europe (the time between World War I and World War II) maintained a tumultuous air, with various authoritarian powers arising, specifically Germany and their allies, and threatening the sovereignty of other European nations. Simultaneously, new nations formed out of formerly separate states. Europe trudged through a period of revitalization and, conversely, demise. Following a major world war, the United States saw it fit to keep distant from European conflict, with the memory of the destruction and economic impact of war fresh on their minds. Consequently, the country near unanimously decided that the most pressing issues to tackle would be those that flooded the soil on the homeland.

The mindset that was awarded to Europe, however, did not seem to carry over to other parts of the world, specifically, Latin America. While isolationism ran rampant looking east over the Atlantic, intervention seemed to be the only option looking South.

Between the end of the First World War and the United States entry into the Second World War, the United States intervened, whether through military occupation or military intervention, in 12 unique Latin American Countries. In Europe, the United States only dipped their toe into two countries (Yugoslavia and Turkey), neither of which included an occupation. Primary reasoning for intervening in Latin America included the rise of communism throughout many of the nations. Dictators that came with authoritarian governments permeated the countries. However, these dictatorial leaderships differed in very few ways from the rise of communism in Europe. But where these two situations did differ were in their vulnerability. A vast majority of the world’s knees buckled under the pressure of economic instability. However, the power vacuum caused by the release of colonial grip from many states in Latin America left a second, government-sized hole opened, a colossal hole that could mean the difference between sliding our hand into a nation being surrounded by communism that would reap economic benefits, and leaving a nation being surrounded by communism in order to conserve the isolationist ideals that were pushed by many in the United States.

Nearly 90 years later, isolationism in the United States has resurfaced, this time wearing the mask of various political figures and the policies that they have introduced. The recent 120-day ban on people from seven predominantly Muslim nations has been enacted under the guise of “national security” in order to prevent terrorist attacks that may or may not be committed by Muslim immigrants, visa holders, permanent residents, and refugees.

The idea of protecting the nation from people that come from these seven countries again presents an unavoidable paradox. The United States wishes to distance itself from these nations, supposedly convinced that it will increase homeland security and help people in the United States sleep a little safer at night. All the while, the United States continues to interject itself militarily, with the Armed Forces currently intervening, and in most cases bombing five out of the seven nations highlighted in the ban. The United States has imposed itself in these nations throughout the past eleven years, mostly under the circumstances of halting oppressive governments, much like the narrative of the interjections into Latin American 90 years earlier.

Isolationism is not something to be picked apart. In order for the United States, or any nation claim isolationism as a means for security, economic growth, this, that, and the other, it cannot choose the ways that it can be involved. Immigration and seeking refuge is a by-product of political turmoil, war, or oppression. If the United States has had any role in perpetuating these events, then it would be and has been irresponsible and inhumane of them to ignore the lives that are at risk in these nations. The phrase “history repeats itself” has been especially relevant in the past couple of weeks. Governments in positions of power in the world can not, and must not allow history to run its course as it has in the past.

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Will is a junior in high school who loves reading, writing, and anything but math. Avid Chance the Rapper stan. He is super interested in politics and how social justice can intersect with the political systems of the world.

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