FROM FDR’S “GOOD NEIGHBOR” POLICY TO HOSPITALITY DESIGN AMERICAS EXPO: REFLECTIONS FROM THE WOLFSONIAN LIBRARY

Bicycling into work this morning along my usual route past the Miami Beach Convention Center, I saw that Hospitality Design Americas was promoting their exposition as the “Gateway to Latin America,” I couldn’t help but to reflect on President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “Good Neighbor” policy in the 1930s and the long-term changes it initiated. I found the expo’s Latin American theme and orientation especially interesting in light of a new library acquisition I just finished cataloging, which asked if the new policy could be deemed a success and deserved to be continued.

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This pamphlet, prepared for the United States Armed Forces by the American Historical Association was one of a series of War Department education manuals published to foster discussion at GI roundtables for the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. Issued in the final year of World War II, this particular pamphlet provided a brief background of U.S.-Latin American relations before and after FDR announced in his 1933 inaugural address his intention to “dedicate this Nation to the policy of the good neighbor—the neighbor who resolutely respects himself and, because he does so, respects the rights of others—the neighbor who respects his obligations and respects the sanctity of his agreements in and with a world of neighbors.”

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GIFT OF THOMAS C. RAGAN

This was quite a departure from the motto of Franklin’s distant cousin and earlier occupant of the White House, Theodore Roosevelt, the “Rough Rider” who coined the saying “Speak softly and carry a big stick,” and who pursued an aggressive and interventionist approach in dealing with our neighbors to the South.

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GIFT OF JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A SHARF

Certainly, FDR’s new foreign policy approach stressing diplomacy over military intervention, and fostering commerce and the tourist trade proved popular in countries like Uruguay, Brazil, and Argentina.

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GIFT OF FRANCIS XAVIER LUCA & CLARA HELENA PALACIO LUCA

Thanks to an important donation of rare materials made by Thomas C. Ragan to The Wolfsonian-FIU library, we now possess a large and important collection of archival materials related to the Good Neighbor Fleet. Interested in capitalizing on government subsidies, in 1938 the newly consolidated Moore-McCormack Lines established new trade and tourist routes to South America and appropriately renamed three ocean liners of their fleet the Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina.

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GIFTS OF THOMAS C. RAGAN

As the diplomatic situation in Europe grew increasingly grave, the See America First campaign, originally designed to boost the domestic economy during the Great Depression, was extended to all of the Americas in Moore-McCormack Line literature.

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GIFTS OF THOMAS C. RAGAN

In the late 1930s and early 1940s before the United States entered the Second World War, the luxury liners of the Good Neighbor Fleet brought U.S. tourists to South American ports as never before, while the company’s freighters also participated in the substantially increased inter-American trade.

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GIFTS OF THOMAS C. RAGAN

In September 1939, fears of a “general European war” prompted the Moore-McCormack Lines to paint oversized American flags on their ships to advertise their neutrality and prevent belligerent warplanes and battleships from mistakenly sinking them.

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GIFTS OF THOMAS C. RAGAN

But business as usual and American neutrality came to an end too soon, and the Good Neighbor Fleet’s ocean liners were requisitioned and outfitted for war service as troop ships. In answer to the rhetorical question posed in our newly acquired pamphlet, the economic initiatives of the Good Neighbor policy did persist in the early post-war period, as the Good Neighbor Fleet resumed service along their South American commercial and tourist trade routes. Thomas Ragan’s gift to The Wolfsonian also includes a variety of promotional materials produced in the heyday of resumed trade in the late 1940s and 1950s, some of which were included in a recent library exhibit.

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GIFTS OF THOMAS C. RAGAN

Tragically, the political polarization of the world into hostile pro- and anti-Communist camps during the Cold War initiated a new and deplorable round of American interventionism in Latin America which only abated somewhat following the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1991. Obviously in Cuba and Venezuela, a little “Cold War” persists, and the U.S. “war on drugs” has further complicated relations with a number of our South American neighbors.

~ by "The Chief" on September 25, 2013.

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