From its establishment in 1934, the Senate Special Committee Investigating the Munitions Industry was often identified with its colorful chairman, progressive Republican Gerald P. Nye of North Dakota. The committee and its investigation stemmed from widespread disillusionment with World War I and U.S. involvement in that conflict. Suspicion and distrust of the big financiers, munitions makers, and so-called merchants of death were commonplace in the aftermath of the war and in the Great Depression of the 1930s. Pacificist Dorothy Detzer of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom helped persuade Nye to initiate the probe.
The committee began its investigation in September 1934 and held its final meetings in February 1936. Obtaining sensational press coverage, the panel questioned nearly two hundred witnesses, including such giants of big business and finance as J.P. Morgan and the du Ponts. Testimony and documents filled thirty-nine huge volumes. The committee issued seven reports and recommended legislation to put the munitions industry under government control or ownership and thus reduce the likelihood of involvement in foreign wars.
The Nye Committee did not content that munitions makers and financiers were solely responsible for the U.S. entry into World War I. However, it did maintain that opportunities for private profit from war and preparation for war, shared by many more than big businessmen, made the task of keeping the United States out of war more difficult.
From Encyclopedia of the U.S. Congress (edited by Donald C. Bacon, Roger H. Davidson, and Morton Keller volume 3 pages 1488 and 1489), New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.
The Committee was established per S.Res 206 to look into the influence of the commercial munitions industry, with an eye to how profits were made in the munitions industry during the First World War.
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