Dakota Datebook

Nye Fortells the Future

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

On this date in 1944, Senator Gerald Nye made news by marrying Arda Marguerite Johnson in Iowa Falls; it had been less than a year since Nye’s first wife had divorced him. Nye was a Cooperstown newspaper editor when he began his 20-year U.S. Senate career in 1925. He was 33 and a Republican who was endorsed by the Non-Partisan League.

Nye quickly gained a high profile as chairman of The Special Committee on Investigation of the Munitions Industry, which boldly examined the role played by wealthy corporations leading up to World War I. After probing the dealings and activities of the country’s most powerful bankers and munitions makers, the committee supplied evidence that World War I was instigated by imperial ambitions in Europe and that the U.S. had been lured into the war by propaganda and corporate manipulation.

By spring 1937, seven out of ten Americans agreed that participating in WWI had been a serious and expensive mistake. Congress passed a number of neutrality laws, which created arms embargoes, and prohibited loans or credit to any country – friend or foe – that was waging war. American ships were even prohibited from trading with, or traveling to, any warring nations.

Nye didn’t forget what he learned from that investigation. As World War II heated up in Europe, Nye fought hard to retain America’s isolation; but, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, everything changed. By the time of Nye’s second marriage, the country had moved from political neutrality to fighting in wars all over the globe.

Five days after his wedding, the Republican senator stood up on the floor to give his farewell address. About his failure to win his latest bid for reelection, he said, “Clever propaganda such as can cause intelligent men and women to be made blind to truth and reason has been used against me.”

Nye told his fellow senators that upon their shoulders now rested the hopes of the “plain people” for “peace for our own” and called on them to keep the U.S. out of World War Three by “minding our own business.” He talked about the foolhardiness of WWI and how time would tell whether the U.S. should have gotten involved in the present war in Europe. “I am sure…” he then said, “that within 20 years from now – perhaps within 10 years – we will be told that we must go into another…war to keep Russia from seizing control of the world.”

He repeated for his colleagues the four things he had learned from the Senate Munitions Investigation: 1) that economic interests lay at the bottom of modern wars; 2) that economic interests that stand to make money from wars “cannot be trusted not to work” for war; 3) that the private armaments industry topped the list of those that “cannot be trusted to work against” the coming of war; and 4) that any part of the banking industry engaged in financing the armament industry is just as dangerous as the armament industry itself.

Stating what he believed until his death, he said, “…the demand to get out and stay out (of other nations’ wars) will come as surely as tomorrow’s sunrise, and no president, no congress, no Europe-dazzled press or seaboard moneyed class will be able to deny it.”

It was Nye’s first prediction that come true, however… 20 years later, the U.S. was fighting in Vietnam to keep communism from “seizing control of the world.”

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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