Focus Question: Should the U.S. have entered World War II before the bombing of Pearl Harbor? (Standard 11.7.1: Examine the origins of American involvement in the war, with an emphasis on the events that precipitated the attack on Pearl Harbor.)
Prior to 1941, the United States was reluctant to enter World War II. Many Americans, called Isolationists, considered the cost of World War I too great and wanted the country to focus on recovering from the Great Depression and implementing President Roosevelt’s New Deal programs. Isolationists did not want to fight another long and costly war. As a result, Congress passed the Neutrality Act of 1935 which outlawed providing funds or supplies to warring countries. In 1939, Germany invaded Poland. Then, Germany invaded France and Belgium and attacked England, while the Nazis built concentration camps throughout northern Europe. Germany’s aggression towards other European nations made the United States more inclined to action, called intervention. President Roosevelt was an interventionist. He created a military draft and sought money from Congress to build new naval vessels. He also asked Congress to allow the United States to provide supplies, arms, and ammunition to Europe in the Neutrality Act of 1939. Roosevelt called on the U.S. to be an “arsenal of democracy.” However, Isolationists still opposed intervention. Charles Lindbergh and the America First Committee were the leading critics of the U.S. entering World War II and argued that the German military was too strong to defeat. In 1940, Germany, Italy, and Japan joined together in the Tripartite Pact to form the Axis Powers; they pledged to go to war if any of them were attacked by the United States. In 1941, Roosevelt and Churchill met secretly and drafted the Atlantic Charter in which each country pledged to aid the other. Throughout 1940 and 1941, the United States strengthened its defenses and sent more and more supplies to England and the Soviet Union. U-boat attacks on supply ships increased. Japan sought to control more and more of the western Pacific Ocean and South Asia. Interventionists felt that the U.S. economy would suffer if it were left as the only democratic country because it would not trade freely with totalitarian regimes; trade was already being affected by the Japanese control of the Pacific. Finally, on December 7, 1941, Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor. The United States and the Isolationists could no longer resist involvement in World War II. Answer the question from the positions of the Isolationists and Interventionists using the following criteria.