Beyond the Merchants of Death: the Senate Munitions Inquiry of the 1930s and its Role in Twentieth-Century American History
Description: The Senate Munitions Committee of 1934-1936, chaired by Gerald Nye of North Dakota, provided the first critical examination of America's modern military establishment. The committee approached its task guided by the optimism of the progressive Social Gospel and the idealism of earlier times, but in the middle of the munitions inquiry the nation turned to new values represented in Reinhold Niebuhr's realism and Franklin D. Roosevelt's Second New Deal. By 1936, the committee found its views out of place in a nation pursuing a new course and in a world threatening to break out in war. Realist historians writing in the cold war period (1945-1990) closely linked the munitions inquiry to isolationism and created a one-dimensional history in which the committee chased evil "merchants of death." The only book-length study of the munitions investigation, John Wiltz's In Search of Peace, published in 1963, provided a realist interpretation. The munitions inquiry went beyond the merchants of death in its analysis of the post-World War I American military establishment. A better understanding emerges when the investigation is considered not only within an isolationist framework, but also as part of the intellectual, cultural, and political history of the interwar years. In particular, Franklin Roosevelt's political use of the investigation becomes apparent. Sources used include the committee's hearings, exhibits, and reports, the Gerald Nye Papers, the Franklin Roosevelt Papers, the Cordell Hull Papers, the R. Walton Moore Papers, the Henry Stimson Papers, the Homer Cummings Diaries, and the State Department's decimal files.
Date: May 1996
Creator: Coulter, Matthew Ware
Partner: UNT Libraries