When Americans Fell in Love with The Ideal of ‘One World’Roundup
tags: politics, 1940s, globalization, Wendell Willkie, coronavirus
Samuel Zipp teaches American Studies and Urban Studies at Brown University and is author of The Idealist: Wendell Willkie's Wartime Quest to Build One World.
But now that the bloom is off globalization’s rose—world connection is just as likely to spur thoughts of climate change, inequality, or the spread of COVID-19 as global fellowship—we would do well to recall the longer, lost history of “one world.” Whether we know it or not, any modern use of the phrase, in both its hopeful and fearful senses, is indebted to the Republican Presidential candidate Wendell Willkie and his 1943 bestseller, One World.
If you’ve heard of Willkie, it’s likely because of his 1940 campaign for president against Franklin Roosevelt. A relative newcomer to politics, Willkie was drafted by business-friendly Republicans because he opposed FDR’s New Deal. He is often celebrated for his decision not to side with the so-called “isolationists” in the Republican Party—some of whom claimed the badge of “America First!” to resist American involvement in another European war.
Willkie is also revered for what happened after he lost that election. Instead of remaining in opposition, Willkie stepped up to support Lend-Lease, the President’s effort to send American war supplies to Britain. Willkie, it is said, helped FDR prepare America to save the world from fascism.
These stories, while powerful, actually slight Willkie’s true significance. He should be remembered more for his particular vision of “one world.” Specifically, Willkie argued for “one world” as a global call for a world free of the racism and imperial exploitation fostered by nationalism. His ideals may appear naïve at first, but they might give us some idea of what a visionary globalism is still good for in a time of resurgent nationalism and planetary fragility.
Willkie was not the first to use the phrase “one world.” Writers and thinkers had previously used it to describe how the steamship, the telegraph, the telephone, the airplane, the stock market, and the radio all shrank space and sped up time, bringing far-flung places and cultures into greater contact.
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