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Chapter 34

Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Shadow of War

1933-1941

 

The London Conference

In the summer of 1933, 66 nations sent delegates to the London Economic Conference.  The delegates hoped to coordinated an international response to the global depression. They wanted to stabilize currencies and the rates at which they could be exchanged.

President Roosevelt opposed the conference because he did not want any interference with his own plans to fix the American economy.

Without support from the United States, the London Economic Conference fell apart.  The collapse strengthened the global trend towards nationalism, while making international cooperation increasingly difficult.

 

Freedom for (from?) the Filipinos and Recognition for the Russians

Continuing the nation's isolationist policies, President Roosevelt withdrew from Asia. Congress passed the Tydings-McDuffie Act in 1934, providing independence to the Philippines by 1946. The nation did not want to have to support the Philippines if Japan attacked it.

In 1933, Roosevelt formally recognized the Soviet Union, opening up trade and fostering a friendship to counter-balance the threat of German power in Europe and Japanese power in Asia.

 

Becoming a Good Neighbor

FDR started the Good Neighbor policy, in which America would not intervene or interfere with Latin American countries. All marines left Haiti in 1934. America also released some control over Cuba and Panama.

When the Mexican government seized American oil properties in 1938, President Roosevelt held to his unarmed intervention policy and a settlement was eventually worked out in 1941.

 

Secretary Hull's Reciprocal Trade Agreements

Congress passed the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act in 1934, which was designed to lower the tariff. This act allowed the President to lower tariffs with a country if that country also lowered their tariffs. Secretary of State Hull succeeded in negotiating pacts with 21 countries by the end of 1939. 

The trade agreements dramatically increased U.S. foreign trade.  The act paved the way for the American-led free-trade international economic system that took shape after WWII.

 

Storm-Cellar Isolationism

Following the Great Depression, totalitarianism spread throughout Europe. Joseph Stalin took control of the Communist USSR and killed hundreds of thousands of political opponents. Benito Mussolini took control of Italy in 1922. Adolf Hitler took control of Germany in 1933.  Hitler was the most dangerous of all of the dictators because he had tremendous power and he was impulsive.

In 1936, Nazi Hitler and Fascist Mussolini allied themselves in the Rome-Berlin Axis.

In 1934, Japan terminated the Washington Naval Treaty and accelerated their construction of large battleships.

Mussolini, seeking power and glory in Africa, attacked Ethiopia in 1935.

Americans maintained an isolationist attitude because they thought that the oceans that surrounded the country would protect them.

In 1934, Congress passed the Johnson Debt Default Act, preventing debt-dodging nations from borrowing further from the United States.

 

Congress Legislates Neutrality

Congress sought to keep America out of war by passing the Neutrality Acts of 1935, 1936, and 1937.  The acts stated that when the president proclaimed the existence of a foreign war, certain restrictions would automatically go into effect. In regards to countries that were involved in a war (victim or aggressor), no American could legally sail on one of their ships, sell or transport munitions to them, or give them loans.

Because America did not help its democratic friends, America actually helped provoke the aggressors (because it did not deter them).

 

America Dooms Loyalist Spain

The Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939 started when Spanish rebels, led by fascist General Francisco Franco, rose against the left-wing republican government in Madrid. Aided by Mussolini and Hitler, Franco overthrew the Loyalist regime, which was supported by the Soviet Union. This war was a "dress rehearsal" for World War II because it involved many of the same countries.

A small group of American volunteers (Abraham Lincoln Brigade) fought for the Loyalists.

The United States wanted to stay out of war, so Congress amended the neutrality legislation to apply an arms embargo to both the Loyalists and rebels.

 

Appeasing Japan and Germany

In 1937, the Japanese invaded China.  President Roosevelt refused to call this invasion a "war", so the neutrality legislation did not take effect. If he had called it a war, he would have cut off munition sales to the Chinese. A consequence of this, though, was that the Japanese could still buy war supplies from the United States.

FDR gave his Quarantine Speech in 1937, in which he proposed economic embargos against the aggressive dictators. The public opposed this, so FDR did not follow through with his plan.

In 1937, Japanese planes sunk an American ship, the Panay. Tokyo quickly apologized and the United States accepted.

In 1935, Hitler violated the Treaty of Versailles when he introduced mandatory military service in Germany.  In 1936, he again violated the treaty when he took over the demilitarized German Rhineland.

In March 1938, Hitler invaded Austria.  (Note: Austria actually voted for the occupation, fully aware that if it resisted, Germany would forcefully take over Austria.)

At a conference in Munich, Germany in September 1938, the Western European democracies allowed Germany to keep Sudetenland (part of Czechoslovakia). They hoped that this would stop Hitler from taking over other countries. It did not.

In March 1939, Hitler took over all of Czechoslovakia.  (See Austria note.)

 

Hitler's Belligerency and U.S. Neutrality

On August 23, 1939, the Soviet Union signed a nonaggression treaty with Hitler.  The Hitler-Stalin pact meant that Germany could make war on Poland and the Western democracies without fear of retaliation from the Soviet Union.

Hitler invaded Poland on September 1, 1939.  Britain and France, honoring their commitments to Poland, declared war on Germany; World War II had started.

Although Americans were strongly anti-Nazi, they wanted to stay out of the war.

Britain and France needed war materials from America, so Congress passed the Neutrality Act of 1939. (The previous Neutrality Acts prohibited trade with them.) This new act let the European democracies buy American war materials as long as they transported the goods on their own ships and paid in cash. This allowed America to avoid loans, war debts, and the sinking of American ships.

The demand for war goods helped end the recession of 1937-1938, and it solved the decade-long unemployment crisis.

 

The Fall of France

The months after the fall of Poland were known as the "phony war" because France and the U.K. were not really militiarily involved in the war, yet.

The Soviet Union took over Finland despite Congress loaning $30 million to Finland.

The phoney war ended in April-May 1940 when Hitler took over Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, and Belgium. France fell in June 1940.

When France surrendered, Americans realized that England was all that stood in the way of Hitler controlling all of Europe. FDR and Congress quickly set out to build large airfleets and a two-ocean navy. On September 6, 1940, Congress passed a conscription law; under this measure, America's first peacetime draft was initiated.

At the Havana Conference of 1940, the United States agreed to protect Latin America from German aggression (extension of the Monroe Doctrine).

 

Refugees from the Holocaust

On November 9, 1938, mobs of Germans attacked German Jews (Kristallnact, "night of broken glass"). Following these attacks, thousands of Jews were sent to concentration camps.

FDR created the War Refugee Board after learning of the Nazi genocide. It was created to help victims of the Nazis and other Axis powers.

By the war's end, over 6 millions Jews had been murdered in the Holocaust.

 

Bolstering Britain

After France fell to Germany, Hitler launched air attacks against Britain in August 1940 (Battle of Britain). During the Battle of Britain, radio broadcasts brought the drama from London air raids directly into America homes. Sympathy for Britain grew, but it was not yet sufficient to push the United States into war. 

The most powerful group of those who supported aid for Britain was the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies.  Isolationists organized the America First Committee, contending that America should concentrate what strength it had to defend its own shores.

On September 2, 1940, President Roosevelt transferred 50 destroyers left over from WWI to Britain.  In return, Britain gave to the United States 8 valuable defensive base sites in the Western Hemisphere. This transfer of warships was a flagrant violation of America's neutrality obligations.

 

Shattering the Two-Term Tradition

The Republicans chose Wendell L. Willkie to run in the election of 1940. The Republicans condemned FDR's alleged dictatorship and they opposed the New Deal's inefficiencies.

Roosevelt decided to run for a 3rd term, arguing that in a time of war, the country needed his experience. At this point, a 2-term presidential limit only existed in tradition.

FDR won the election of 1940; voters generally felt that if war came, the experience of FDR was needed.

 

A Landmark Lend-Lease Law

Fearing the collapse of Britain, Congress passed the Lend-Lease Bill in 1941, under the pretense of defending America. It allowed America to lease arms to the democracies of the world that needed them. (Europeans didn't have the cash to buy the arms; cash was required by the Neutrality Act of 1939.) When the war was over, the guns and tanks could be returned.  Opponents of the bill, like Senator Taft, criticized it, saying that the arms would be destroyed and unable to be returned after the war. It was pitched as a program that would allow the democracies to win the war and keep it away from America.

The bill marked the abandonment of any pretense of neutrality.

Hitler saw the Lend-Lease Bill as an unofficial declaration of war. Until then, Germany had avoided attacking U.S. ships, but on May 21, 1941, the Robin Moor, an unarmed American merchantman, was destroyed by a German submarine in the South Atlantic, outside the war zone.

 

Charting a New World

Before the attack on Pearl Harbor, 2 events marked the course of WWII: the fall of France in June 1940, and Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941.

Hitler decided to crush the Soviet Union

On June 22, 1941, Hitler attacked the Soviet Union. He hoped to take the oil and other resources of the Soviet Union and then concentrate on Britain. President Roosevelt sent military supplies to the USSR.

In August 1941, Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill met and came up with the eight-point Atlantic Charter at the Atlantic Conference. It discussed the goals of the war. Among other things, it promised that there would be no territorial changes contrary to the wishes of the inhabitants; it affirmed the right of a people to choose their own form of government; and it declared for disarmament of the aggressors.

 

U.S. Destroyers and Hitler's U-boats Clash

Because Germany kept sinking arms shipments, FDR decided to have American warships escort supplies to Britain (July 1941).

After a series of American boats were sunk by German U-boats, Congress voted in November 1941 to repeal the Neutrality Act of 1939. This enabled merchant ships to be legally armed and enter combat zones with munitions for Britain.

 

Surprise Assault on Pearl Harbor

Since September 1940, Japan had been allied with Germany.

Japan's war effort was dependent on trade with America. In late 1940, though, Washington imposed the first of its trade embargoes on Japan. The U.S. offered to lift the embargo if Japan ended its war with China. Japan did not agree to America's terms, and it continued to fight.

On "Black Sunday" December 7, 1941, Japanese bombers attacked Pearl Harbor, killing 2,348 people. (List of those who died) Most of America's battleships were significantly damaged, but its 3 Pacific-fleet aircraft carriers were spared because they were out of the harbor.

On December 8, the U.S. declared war on Japan. On December 11, 1941, Germany and Italy declared war on the U.S. The U.S. followed suit by declaring war on them.

 

America's Transformation from Bystander to Belligerent

Pearl Harbor united Americans in their desire to go to war. Prior to the attack, though, most Americans only supported policies that might lead to war. They did not want Britain to fall to Germany, and they wanted to stop Japan from expanding.

 


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