Arthur Vandenberg

Arthur Vandenberg

Arthur Vandenberg was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on 22nd March, 1884. His father went bankrupt in 1893 and Vandenberg was forced to leave school. He later complained: "I had no youth. I went to work when I was nine, and I never got a chance to enjoy myself." After studying law at the University of Michigan he went into journalism.

In 1906 he was appointed as managing editor of the Grand Rapids Herald at a salary of $2,500. At the time he was a progressive member of the Republican Party and advocated "moderate and practical reforms" on domestic matters. According to Thomas E. Mahl: "By 1928 the man who had dropped out of college for lack of money was a millionaire. His diligence had made him board chairman of Federated Publications, which published not only the Grand Rapids Herald but the Battle Creek Enquirer and News and the Lansing State Journal. Now he could afford the political career he had long wished to pursue."

Vandenberg became senator from Michigan on the March 1928 death of Woodbridge Nathan Ferris. One political commentator claimed that he was "the only Senator who can strut sitting down". Walter Trohan, who worked for the Chicago Tribune, wrote: "I knew Vandenberg quite well... I confess I was not fond of him... Politicians as a class are vain but he was vain beyond most of the tribe. His chief conversation was on his last speech or the one he had in preparation."

Vandenberg was a supporter of the New Deal and in 1933 he managed to push through federal insurance on bank deposits. In 1934 he became one of the few Republicans to be elected to the Senate. In fact he was known as a "New Deal Republican". However, he later opposed the measures introduced by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on the basis of "constitutionalism".

Vandenberg viewed the First World War as a mistake and he campaigned to take the profits out of war. On 8th February, 1934, Gerald Nye submitted a Senate Resolution calling for an investigation of the munitions industry by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee under Key Pittman of Nevada. Pittman disliked the idea and the resolution was referred to the Military Affairs Committee. It was eventually combined with one introduced earlier by Vandenberg.

The Military Affairs Committee accepted the proposal and as well as Nye and Vandenberg, the Munitions Investigating Committee included James P. Pope of Idaho, Homer T. Bone of Washington, Joel B. Clark of Missouri, Walter F. George of Georgia and W. Warren Barbour of New Jersey. John T. Flynn, a writer with the New Republic magazine, was appointed as an advisor and Alger Hiss as the committee's legal assistant.

Public hearings before the Munitions Investigating Committee began on 4th September, 1934. In the reports published by the committee it was claimed that there was a strong link between the American government's decision to enter the First World War and the lobbying of the the munitions industry. The committee was also highly critical of the nation's bankers. In a speech in 1936 Gerald Nye argued that "the record of facts makes it altogether fair to say that these bankers were in the heart and center of a system that made our going to war inevitable".

Vandenberg had a reputation as a womanizer. Arthur Krock, a journalist with New York Times, later wrote: "Vandenberg's romantic impulses led to gossip at Washington hen-parties, where the hens have teeth and the teeth are sharp". One of his mistresses was Mitzi Sims, the wife of Harold Sims, who was a diplomat at the British embassy. The reporter, Walter Trohan, claimed that insiders called him the "Senator from Mitzi-gan".

Only seventeen Republicans remained in the Senate after the 1936 election. After the party's defeat Vandenberg was considered the leader of the Republicans in the Senate and was expected to become the party candidate in the 1940 presidential election. David Tompkins, the author of Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg: the Evolution of a Modern Republican (1970): "During 1937 most opinion polls rated him as the Republican voters' first choice for the nomination."

During this period Vandenberg changed from being an isolationist into an internationalist. Arthur Krock has argued that he had been "converted from isolationism by the pretty wife of a West European diplomat, a lady of whom, as the saying goes, he saw a lot." Walter Trohan claims that he had seen Office of Naval Intelligence files that showed that Mitzi Sims was a spy working for British intelligence."

In December 1940 President Franklin D. Roosevelt made a speech where he proposed selling munitions to Britain and Canada. Isolationists like Vandenberg and Thomas Connally of Texas argued that this legislation would lead to American involvement in the Second World War. In early February 1941 a poll by the George H. Gallup organisation revealed that only 22 percent were unqualifiedly against the President's proposal. It has been argued by Thomas E. Mahl, the author of Desperate Deception: British Covert Operations in the United States, 1939-44 (1998), has argued that the Gallup organization had been infiltrated by the British Security Coordination (BSC).

Michael Wheeler, the author of Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics: The Manipulation of Public Opinion in America (2007) has pointed out how this could have been done: "Proving that a given poll is rigged is difficult because there are so many subtle ways to fake data... a clever pollster can just as easily favor one candidate or the other by making less conspicuous adjustments, such as allocating the undecided voters as suits his needs, throwing out certain interviews on the grounds that they were non-voters, or manipulating the sequence and context within which the questions are asked... Polls can even be rigged without the pollster knowing it.... Most major polling organizations keep their sampling lists under lock and key."

It has been argued that both Vandenberg and Connally were targeted by British Security Coordination in order to persuade the Senate to pass the Lend-Lease proposal. Mary S. Lovell, the author of Cast No Shadow (1992) believes that the spy, Elizabeth Thorpe Pack (codename "Cynthia") who was working for the BSC, played an important role in this: "Cynthia's second mission for British Security Coordination was to try and convert the opinions of senators Connally and Vandenberg into, if not support, a less heated opposition to the Lend Lease bill which literally meant the difference between survival and defeat for the British. Other agents of both sexes were given similar missions with other politicians... with Vandenberg she was successful; with Senator Connally, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, she was not."

During the Lend-Lease debate Vandenberg announced on the floor of the Senate that he had finally decided to support the loan. He warned his colleagues: "If we do not lead some other great and powerful nation will capitalize our failure and we shall pay the price of our default." Richard N. Gardner, the author of Sterling Dollar Diplomacy in Current Perspective (1980), has argued that Vandenberg's speech was the "turning point in the Senate Debate" with sixteen other Republicans voting in favour of the bill.

Vandenberg was a delegate to the United Nations Conference at San Francisco in 1945 and served on the Committee on Foreign Relations (1947-49). He was a member of Congress until his death on 18th April, 1951.

Primary Sources

(1) Gerald Nye, speech reported in the New York Times (10th February, 1936)

It would not be fair to say that the House of Morgan took us to war to save their investment in the Allies, but the record of facts makes it altogether fair to say that these bankers were in the heart and center of a system that made our going to war inevitable. We started in 1914 with a neutrality policy which permitted the sale of arms and munitions to belligerents, but which forbad loans to belligerents. Then, in the name of our own business welfare. President Wilson permitted the policy to be stretched to the extent of permitting the house of Morgan to supply the credit needs of the Allies. After this error of neutrality, the road to war was paved and greased for us.

(2) Report on Activities and Sales of Munition Companies (April, 1936)

Almost without exception, the American munitions companies investigated have at times resorted to such unusual approaches, questionable favors and commissions, and methods of 'doing the needful' as to constitute, in effect,

a form of bribery of foreign governmental officials or of their close friends in order to secure business. These business methods carried within themselves the seeds of disturbance to the peace and stability of those nations in which they take place.

While the evidence before this committee does not show that wars have been started solely because of the activities of munitions makers and their agents, it is also true that wars rarely have one single cause, and the committee finds it to be against the peace of the world for selfishly interested organizations to be left free to goad and frighten nations into military activity.

(3) Joel B. Clark, introduction to the Munitions Industry: Report on Existing Legislation (5th June, 1936)

The Committee wishes to point out most definitely that its study of events resulting from the then existing neutrality legislation, or the lack of it, is in no way a criticism, direct or implied, of the sincere devotion of the then President, Woodrow Wilson, to the high causes of peace and democracy. Like other leaders in government, business and finance, he had watched the growth of militarism in the pre-war years. Militarism meant the alliance of the military with powerful economic groups to secure appropriations on the one hand for a constantly increasing military and naval establishment, and on the other hand, the constant threat of the use of that swollen military establishment in behalf of the economic interests at home and abroad of the industrialists supporting it. President Wilson was personally impelled by the highest motives and the most profound convictions as to the justice of the cause of our country and was devoted to peace. He was caught up in a situation created largely by the profit-making interests in the United States, and such interests spread to nearly everybody in the country. It seemed necessary to the prosperity of our people that their markets in Europe remain unimpaired. President Wilson, himself, stated that he realized that the economic rivalries of European nations had played their part in bringing on the war in 1914.

(4) Gerald Nye, speech in Congress (6th June, 1936)

Loans extended to the Allies in 1915 and 1916, led to a very considerable war boom and inflation. This boom extended beyond munitions to auxiliary supplies and equipment as well as to agricultural products. The nature of such a war-boom inflation is that, like all inflations, an administration is almost powerless to check it, once the movement is well started. Our foreign policy then is seriously affected by it, even to the extent of making impossible the alteration of our foreign policy in such a way as to protect our neutral rights.

(5) Gerald Nye, speech in Congress (July, 1939)

No member of the Munitions Committee to my knowledge has ever contended that it was munitions makers who took us to war. But that committee and its members have said again and again, that it was war trade and the war boom, shared in by many more than munitions makers, that played the primary part in moving the United States into a war.

(6) Walter Trohan, Political Animals: Memoirs of a Sentimental Cynic (1975)

The sex gambit was employed to influence policy by the British on Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg of Michigan, one of the vainest men to serve in a body where egos are often king size... He was strongly opposed to American intervention, but made a fast switch to intervention. Before the about-face, he was a regular attendant at keep-out-of-the-war strategy sessions, organized by Wheeler and Nye....

When the Canadian woman (who Vandenberg was having an affair with) left the capital for her home, she was replaced by a British woman. The replacement convinced those in the know that the British were working on the senator. Proof came when I learned the Office of Naval Intelligence had intercepted the woman's reports to British intelligence on her progress with Vandenberg.

(7) Mary S. Lovell, Cast No Shadow (1992)

Cynthia's second mission for British Security Coordination was to try and convert the opinions of senators Connally and Vandenberg into, if not support, a less heated opposition to the Lend Lease bill which literally meant the difference between survival and defeat for the British. Other agents of both sexes were given similar missions with other politicians... with Vandenberg she was successful.