George W. Bush must have been the despair of the history department of every school his daddy managed to get him into.
Consider his latest excursion into the history of the republic, at Southern Methodist, where the Great Man's papers are to be housed.
"What's interesting about our country, if you study history, is that there are some 'isms' that occasionally pop up. One is isolationism and its evil twin protectionism and its evil triplet nativism. So if you study the '20s, for example, there was an American-first policy that said, 'Who cares what happens in Europe?' ... And there was an immigration policy that I think during this period argued we had too many Jews and too many Italians, therefore we should have no immigrants. And my point is that we've been through this kind of period of isolationism, protectionism and nativism. I'm a little concerned that we may be going through the same period. I hope that these 'isms' pass."
Where to begin?
First, "America First" was the antiwar movement begun in 1940 and backed by the young John F. Kennedy and his brother Joe, Gerald Ford and ex-president Herbert Hoover. It had nothing to do with the 1920s.
In the Harding-Coolidge decade, America was deeply interested in "what happens in Europe." It began with Hoover rushing U.S. food aid to the defeated nations of World War I and even to the USSR, for which Lenin personally thanked the Americans.
In 1921, President Harding called a Washington Naval Conference that produced the greatest disarmament treaty of modern times, in which America, Britain, France, Italy and Japan agreed to deep cuts and severe limits on the strategic weapons of the day, battleships.
In 1924, Charles G. Dawes advanced the Dawes Plan to ease the reparations burden on Germany, for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize.
In 1927, Coolidge convened a second naval disarmament conference to bring cruisers under the same limits as battleships -- but the British balked.
In 1928 came the Kellogg-Briand Pact, by which scores of nations renounced war as an instrument of national policy. Undeniably utopian, it was hardly a mark of an isolationist America.
Secretary of State Frank Kellogg won our country's fourth Nobel Peace Prize.
In 1929 came the Young Plan to further ease a reparations burden on Germany then being exploited by the rising Nazi Party.
Wrote British historian A.J.P. Taylor: "American policy was never more active and never more effective in regard to Europe than in the 1920s. Reparations were settled; stable finances were restored; Europe was pacified, all mainly due to the United States."