Segments in this Video

World's Umpire (01:57)


Since World War II, the U.S. has been involved in more conflicts than any other nation. Presidents have maintained this is necessary to keep the world safe, but the costs of leadership are high.

Baseball Analogy (03:47)

Elizabeth Cobbs researches why the U.S. continues to defend democracy after winning the Cold War. She believes there is a link between domestic relations and international relations; the founding fathers intended the federal government as an umpire to keep the 13 colonies cooperating. Most problems were solved peacefully in early nationhood.

Three Foreign Policy Principles (03:40)

To avoid involvement in European conflicts, the founding fathers encouraged trade relations but avoided political or military alliances; the U.S. had no standing army because it took valuable resources and posed a threat to liberty; and the U.S. would not intervene in conflicts of other nations.

Attempts to Maintain Isolationism (02:04)

During World War I, Wilson declared neutrality until German submarines sunk American merchant ships. He sent troops but refused to form official alliances. After the war, America reduced its army and hosted a disarmament conference. Major powers sank their own battle ships in 1923.

World War II (02:22)

After World War I, the U.S. returned to its founding principles. During the Depression, Germany, Japan and Italy believed conquest was the only way to restore prosperity. Congress passed 5 neutrality laws, but the war moved closer to home. Roosevelt wrote Hitler and Mussolini asking them to respect sovereign nations— the Nazis laughed.

Mobilization and Intervention (02:15)

The U.S. army was ranked 19th in the world when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. View Roosevelt's declaration of war speech. America's entrance brought hope to Churchill and to French Resistance fighters.

United Nations (01:55)

After World War II, the U.N. Monetary and Financial Conference convened to stabilize world currency and encourage economic success and political cooperation among postwar nations.

Truman Doctrine (03:24)

The Soviet Union became increasingly aggressive. When a communist-backed civil war broke out in Greece in 1947, Britain appealed to the U.S. for help. Concerned that Europe would destabilize, Truman asked Congress to take a stand— starting the Cold War and shifting from isolationist to interventionist policies.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization (02:24)

When the Soviet Union blockaded Berlin, America entered NATO, its first permanent armed alliance. Since then, the military has become a main foreign policy tool. Germany and Japan focused on economic development; the U.S. held a "big brother" role protecting European nations from one another.

Respecting Sovereignty (01:47)

Nation-states gradually replaced empires under the Truman Doctrine; the United Nations symbolically guaranteed their right to exist. Global trade boomed. After the Cold War, the U.S. had to decide whether to retain its umpire role or to share the burden of maintaining global security.

Post-Cold War Questions: Sharing the Burden (03:38)

The Truman Doctrine guided U.S. foreign policy through 1991, and has not yet been replaced. With a similarly sized economy, many believe Europe should increase military contributions for maintaining global security under NATO. European nations enjoy peace without having to pay for national defense.

Balkans (02:17)

After the Cold War, the U.S. hoped European nations would provide their own security. They sent advisors to the Balkans but were unwilling to use force. Madeline Albright describes pressure on the U.S. to intervene. Clinton eventually acted, saying America is an "indispensable nation."

Indispensable Nation (02:04)

America values self-reliance, but has created a situation in which allies rely on U.S. military force. When Russia invaded Ukraine, Obama committed funds for exercises but European nations did not— despite their economic wealth. Experts make the analogy of grown children living at home.

Domestic Opinion of Foreign Policy (02:36)

Polls show most Americans support a more isolationist approach. After failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, young people favor reducing military spending and the national deficit. The U.S. spends most on defense globally, while falling in GDP per capita and education rankings.

Long Term Costs of Military Spending (01:35)

An estimated $4 trillion will be paid to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. With lower defense costs, Europeans can prioritize education. Many U.S. graduates are in debt and the American workforce is less competitive.

Intervention Arguments (03:00)

Many foreign policy experts argue that it is too dangerous to reduce U.S. military activity around the world. If no other nations are willing to increase defense commitments, America has to maintain its umpire role.

Isolation Arguments (02:53)

Some believe national security threats have been exaggerated; foreign policy should be recalculated. Russia's economy is smaller than European nations and many countries are capable of developing nuclear weapons. Americans are more likely to be killed by household furniture than by terrorists.

Fear Driven Foreign Policy (04:17)

Exaggerating national security threats serves U.S. politicians, defense contractors, and allies. Military intervention without clear political goals has worsened many conflicts since World War II, including Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. cannot fix internal problems of other nations.

Future Games: Shared Responsibility (02:52)

World problems require efforts from multiple countries and international institutions. The U.S. peacekeeping function must be shared among major powers. Barry Posen proposes a 10 year plan to transfer military commitment to Europe.

Economic and Political Role Model (03:50)

Foreign policy experts argue that, while the U.S. must maintain strong defenses, it should prioritize development aid and cultural influence over military intervention. Cobbs argues that the U.S should enlist the help of other Western leaders in fighting terrorism.

Credits: American Umpire (01:08)

Credits: American Umpire

For additional digital leasing and purchase options contact a media consultant at 800-257-5126
(press option 3) or

American Umpire

DVD (Chaptered) Price: $169.95
DVD + 3-Year Streaming Price: $254.93
3-Year Streaming Price: $169.95



This thought-provoking documentary about U.S. foreign policy chronicles how the United States became the world's policeman and questions how long the U.S. must continue to play this role. Narrated by Jim Lehrer, formerly of The MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour, and written by award-winning historian Elizabeth Cobbs, the film explores the history of American military intervention and the future of America's military commitment abroad. After detailing the principles that guided U.S. foreign policy for 150 years and the sea change that followed WWII, the latter half of the one-hour documentary examines America's contemporary role on the international stage. The film concludes by asking whether it's time to rethink our current policies, scale down military spending, and bring our allies back into the game as fellow umpires. American Umpire combines archival footage with candid interviews from former secretaries of state George Shultz, Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice; General Jim Mattis and Lt. General Karl Eikenberry, former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan; Nobel Prize winner Michael Spence; Pulitzer Prize winner David Kennedy; and eight scholars from around the world.

Length: 57 minutes

Item#: BVL122175

ISBN: 978-1-63521-717-9

Copyright date: ©2015

Closed Captioned

Reviews & Awards

“Since the Truman Doctrine of 1947, successive American Presidents have held that the United States must be engaged in the global arena, supporting our allies and challenging our adversaries, acting not as Empire but as an umpire in the post WW II international order. Now, both the current President and a Republican challenger question whether our traditional alliances are still necessary. Is it time for a new doctrine, or should we stay steady on a course charted just after WW II? American Umpire is a major contribution to a national debate that will have long term consequences for our interests and our security.”—Ryan Crocker, former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Kuwait, and Lebanon
Dean & Executive Professor, George Bush School of Government & Public Service

American Umpire delivers an intriguing invitation to re-think America’s role in the world. President Obama asks, ‘Have we not learned the lessons of Vietnam and Iraq?’ We clearly have not. This film is a fine place to start.”—Donald P. Gregg, former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea, and Chairman, Pacific Century Institute

“Foreign policy has become an important issue in the 2016 American presidential campaign, but the discussion among the candidates is nowhere near as thoughtful as it should be. American Umpire gives everyone access to a deeper debate, showing us where American strategy has come from, where the United States has found strength and security, and where we need to think carefully about what should come next. American Umpire shows the way to a better debate about the future of American security with enduring images and expert commentary.”—Eugene Goltz, Associate Professor, LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas, Stanley Kaplan Visiting Professor of American Foreign Policy, Williams College

“Elizabeth Cobbs has raised profound questions about America’s role in the world, questions that demand our thoughtful deliberations.”—George C. Edwards III, University Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Jordan Chair in Presidential Studies at Texas A&M University as well as the Editor of the Presidential Studies Quarterly

Related Resources

Performance Rights

Prices include public performance rights.

Not available to Home Video customers.