The Forum: Journal of History


Matteo Marsella


American military involvement in the Great War is a widely discussed aspect of the conflict. The period following the war is often considered an example of American isolationist foreign policy. Lesser well known are American efforts to provide food relief to starving populations in Europe, which began during and continued well after the war's conclusion. This paper seeks to locate American relief efforts within broader postwar foreign policy. Although President Harding’s 1920 election victory on a platform of a “return to normalcy” is often construed as a rejection of Wilsonian internationalism and a return to prewar isolationism, there is no scholarly consensus. The American Relief Administration, created by President Woodrow Wilson and led by Herbert Hoover, distributed critical aid to starving millions across postwar Europe. Beginning during the Wilson administration, and continuing while Hoover served concurrently as Harding’s Secretary of Commerce, the American Relief Administration not only provided relief but also used conditioned aid to advance US foreign policy goals in Europe. I argue that American relief efforts illustrate that following the Great War, the United States practiced a pragmatic form of isolationism that kept the nation engaged in international affairs.