Faculty of Arts
Department of English
and American Studies
English Language and Literature
Road to War: Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Making of U.S. Foreign Policy, 1933-1941
Bachelor’s Diploma Thesis
Supervisor: doc. PhDr. Tomáš Pospíšil, Dr.
I declare that I have worked on this thesis independently,
using only the primary and secondary sources listed in the bibliography.
First of all, I would like to express my gratitude to Mr. Kenneth Alfred Froehling, M.A., and doc. PhDr. Tomáš Pospíšil, Dr. for their guidance and help. I would also like to thank my grandmother for inspiring my love of history. Last but not least, I would like to thank my parents and my sister for their patience, love and tireless support.
Table of Contents
“The point in history at which we stand is full of promise and danger. The world will either move forward toward unity and widely shared prosperity—or it will move apart. ”
—Franklin D. Roosevelt
Right after the end of World War I, the United States attempted to promote peace and global cooperation, but as the Great Depression swept away the foundations of the world’s economic and political stability in the 1930s, the newly elected the 32nd president of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt, carrying the weight of the world events on his shoulders, had to lead the country through the dark days of the economic depression and the beginning of World War II.
Dealing primarily with the severe economic downturn at home in the early 1930s, FDR introduced the New Deal programs, which considerably improved the lives of American citizens and thus changed national despair to hope. The man, whose charming smile, cheerful nature and radiating self-confidence, enchanted the American public to such a degree that he was reelected three times and thus became the longest serving president in American history.
However, as the war clouds gathered slowly across the world, the president was faced with a more serious problem than the Great Depression. With the rise of authoritarian regimes in Germany, Italy and Japan, dictators came to power and began their aggressive conquests, which caused great tensions and gradually disrupted the global “balance-of-power system”.
Year by year, FDR was presented with new evidence that the world was drifting into another conflict, but Americans consumed by their economic problems and isolationist sentiment rejected to participate in international politics. Consequently, the Neutrality Acts legislation was pushed through Congress and tied President’s hands at times, when tougher policies towards the aggressors were desperately needed. When war broke out in Europe in 1939, it was clear to the president that the totalitarian regimes started to jeopardize not only American liberty and safety, but also world peace and stability.
The aim of this thesis is to explore the foreign policy of the United States towards Europe and Asia in the period 1933-1941 within a historical context in order to find out whether Franklin D. Roosevelt intentionally led the United States into World War II or not.
Firstly, I would like to go through the variety of sources—a number of journal articles discussing FDR’s conduct of policies, books that study the U.S. foreign policies in general as well as in relation to FDR’s time in office and a number of FDR’s speeches and biographies in order to investigate his attitudes to the significant events of the period and how they influenced his foreign policy decisions. Subsequently, I would like to support and prove the thesis that FDR’s supreme effort between 1933 and 1941 was to keep the United States out of war.
However, under given circumstances, the entry of the United States to World War II was inevitable, because the aggressiveness of totalitarian regimes in Germany, Italy and Japan endangered not only global peace and stability, but also the future vision of the world based upon the principles of democracy.
The views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government. It is rather an insight into FDR’s foreign policy put in the historical and cultural context.
Towards the Foreign Policy of the 1930s
Right after the end of the Great War, the world was not a safe place for Americans, who had gone through it. The United States felt responsible for the events and Americans, anxious for change, wanted no less than to make the world a better place. Thus, the United States did not retreat from the world affairs in the 1920s.
The Washington Conference
During the 1920s, the United States called for global cooperation and peace and thus initiated a discussion on global disarmament. In 1921, the Washington Conference, held in order to discuss the issues, seemed to produce positive results. Three important treaties were signed in order to promote peace and set the rules for global cooperation: the Four-Power Treaty, the Five-Power Treaty and the Nine-Power Treaty.
Firstly, “by the Four-Power Treaty the United States, Great Britain, Japan, and France bound themselves to respect their respective rights in the Pacific” (Maurois 102).
Secondly, as Ferrell states, the Five-Power Treaty not only established a reasonable ratio [5:5:3:1.67:1.67] for the navies of the three great naval powers [United States, Great Britain, Japan, France, and Italy], but it also coupled this with political arrangements in the Far East and incorporated Hugh’s plan for tonnage limits (85).
Thirdly, “the Nine-Power Treaty was signed by the four powers plus Italy, China, Belgium, the Netherlands and Portugal. The treaty put the open-door principles into international law [and] guaranteed China’s territorial integrity” (LaFeber 340).
The three Washington Conference treaties were designed in order to improve the countries’ relations and ward off potential military conflicts in the Pacific. The United States made it obvious, that the real disarmament was the way how to “create a new, prosperous world that would be safe from the rivalries that had nearly destroyed everything in 1914” (LaFeber 341). Moreover, Thomas Buckley claimed that “the United States thus achieved a better position in relation to its competitors in the Pacific by a limitation of arms than it might have gained by arming” (187). However, twelve years after, Japanese aggression put an end to the period of peace and “the American dream of disarmament died in 1934” (Tindall 1067).
The New Deal and Situation at Home
As the United States provided the European countries with billions of dollars for a war effort and reconstruction, it experienced a boom in the 1920s, because “the system of loans and investments enabled the United States to establish worldwide business connections” (Tindall 1064). However, as Carroll summarized, “the foundations of economic and political stability laid during the 1920s were simply swept away during the economic crisis of the 1930s” (60).
At the beginning of the 1930s, the American economy was in decline. “The dismal word depression” as Andre Maurois described, “echoed throughout the whole of the United States” (135). In 1932, the whole country was in a very critical situation. As soon as “thousands of banks and businesses had closed down, industrial production had fallen by half and wage payments by 60 percent [and] 12 million people were out of work” (O’Callaghan 98). As there was no unemployment pay which the unemployed people then could receive, thousands of them were soon without homes and food, dependent on charity.
Although the Hoover administration was telling that the recovery was “just around the corner” (O’Callghan 98), “the depression deepened year by year until the economy hit bottom in 1933” (Campbell 256). The country needed to find an effective cure as fast as possible. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt was inaugurated president in 1933, he was determined to try anything in order to improve the helpless situation of immensely poor Americans and “pledged himself to a new deal for the American people” (qtd. in Brands 253). Having stated that “the duty of the state toward the citizens is the duty of the servant to its master” (qtd. in Brands 237), FDR introduced the New Deal legislation. The program incorporated many different agencies and was designed to bring about America’s economic recovery:
The Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) were established to provide at least temporary jobs. Americans were thus employed to work on construction projects. The Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA), program designed for farmers, sought to control the production by compensating farmers for voluntary production cutbacks. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) covered a seven-state area and provided supply of cheap electricity and brought jobs to one of the poorest regions of the United States. Recovery Administration (NRA) shaped the governing trade practices, wages, hours, child labour, and collective bargaining. The Wagner Act (1935) increased the authority of the federal government in industrial relations and strengthened the organizing power of labor unions. It also allowed industries to collaborate to limit production of goods and raise wages. (“New Deal”)
However, the most far-reaching program of the whole “alphabet soup” was the Social Security Act, which “provided U.S. citizens with old-age and widows’ benefits, unemployment compensation, and disability insurance” (“New Deal”).
In summary, even though the New Deal failed to produce full economic recovery, the program was highly successful in many respects. “It put millions to work, enhanced the safety and well-being of millions more and greatly improved the nation’s infrastructure” (O’Neill 283). Moreover, “by the 1937 nearly all Americans were better off than they had been in the dark days of the Depression” (O’Callaghan 103).
Roosevelt changed national despair to hope and his unflagging optimism in times of great crises as well as his desire to lead the way had enchanted the American public to such a degree that FDR was reelected three times and thus became the longest serving president in American history.
FDR, Economic Interests and Political Ties in the 1930s
The Great Depression affected not only the economic, but also the political development of the United States. Searching through “the wreckage of the 1920s” the newly elected president—Franklin Delano Roosevelt—began to write his own story of political leadership soon after he got acquainted with the 1930s domestic situation.
Because of the economic downturn, the main objective of the Roosevelt’s administration in the first term was to deal with domestic reforms and domestic policy in general. Although Tindall argues, that “the United States was directly involved in world affairs politically and economically because it had its overseas possessions and interests in Pacific” (1064), there was a little time for the president to play active role in 1933 diplomacy. Thus when FDR turned his attention to the issues of foreign policy in 1933, he only participated in negotiations connected with fostering foreign trade and diplomatic relations.
The Good Neighbor Policy
In 1933, the United States began to write a new chapter in the Americas’ foreign relations history. Considering the long period of mutual distrust caused by the U.S. intervention in Latin America, “the Good Neighbor Policy was a remarkable achievement” (Maurois, 158). As FDR officially proclaimed that “the United States would respect the rights of others and would follow the policy of nonintervention [in Latin America]” (American Experience: FDR) at the 7th Pan-American Conference in Montevideo, Uruguay, “the U.S. marines were withdrawn from the countries, such as Nicaragua, Haiti and the Dominican Republic [and] the peace between the countries was guaranteed” (Hamilton 269). Moreover, “by opening new economic relations and signing treaties” (LaFeber 375), the Good Neighbor Policy not only strengthened inter-American unity, but also opened the way for American investments.
A treaty of “collective security” was obviously a matter of mutual concern and thus it met with a positive response. The policy also proved to be a very effective form of defence. As Maurois claims, “the Roosevelt Administration had laid the groundwork for friendship and mutual defense in the Western Hemisphere” (157-158), which was extremely useful by the time the hopes of peace in Europe ended in September 1939.
On the other hand, the policy of Franklin D. Roosevelt appeared to have a negative side effect. The administration was mostly criticized by later American historians that the policy of nonintervention opened the way for authoritarian regimes and that the dictators came easily to power in some countries of Latin America during the 1930s.
The Open Door Policy
The foreign policy of FDR’s administration towards Asia was quite similar to Latin America. FDR copied the scheme of the “Open Door Policy” shaped by previous U.S. administrations:
The Open Door [policy] enabled all nations to compete for trade and investment opportunities in China on an equal footing rather than allow individual nations [which signed the Nine-Power Treaty] to create economic monopolies in particular regions of the country. (...) The signers of the Treaty also promised to respect the territorial integrity of China. (Tindall 1067)
Americans thus had the opportunity to profit from their investments in China as well as Japan. In that area, the interests of both great powers soon clashed. According to some scholars, the disagreement over China and its resources probably contributed to the rise of the Japanese aggression in 1931. Furthermore, as the Japanese decided to establish “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” (O’Neill 175) in the late 1930s, the tension between both countries increased to such extent, that it could have resulted in Japanese involvement in the World War II.
The Recognition of the Soviet Union
As FDR aimed his effort to dealing with the economic depression, “the Secretary of State—Cordell Hull—recommended to increase the international trade” (O’Neill 158) by signing Reciprocal Trade Agreements, “which reduced duties on U.S. goods up to 50 percent for states which agreed to provide the same reductions for U.S. imports” (Irwin 343). Even though “the State Departement had been afraid that Moscow would ‘not live up to the standards of civilized society’” (qtd. in LaFeber 381) FDR established extensive trade with the Soviet Union (USSR), because it “offered its large market for ailing American manufacturers and agricultural exports” (Conlin 690). Besides the USSR, the Reciprocal Trade Agreement was negotiated with many other countries, of which about half agreed on the terms. “By 1940, the United States had signed agreements with 21 nations that accounted for over 60 percent of U.S. trade” (Irwin 343).
As soon as the business relations were established with Moscow, Roosevelt decided to pursue new foreign policy towards the USSR and officially recognized the USSR in 1933.
Roosevelt leaned toward recognition from the start of his presidency. As harsh as he could be toward certain business groups when it suited his political purposes, he fully understood that exports benefited all classes in America. And, without thinking too specifically about it, he concurred in the belief that an American-Russian rapprochement might give pause to aggressors in Central Europe and East Asia. (Brands 438-439)
So as the USSR’s territory stretched from Europe to the North Asia, FDR thought that the recognition could restore, or rather balance Japan’s power in Asia. Undoubtedly, not only U.S. commercial interests, but also national security purposes probably played major roles in the process of recognition.
Among other things, Roosevelt’s administration fostered foreign trade and diplomatic relations and renewed the U.S. economy. The Good Neighbor policy strengthened inter-American unity and collective security, the Open Door Policy opened the way for foreign countries’ investments in China and encouraged foreign trade. Moreover, the recognition of the USSR helped to establish the U.S.-USSR prosperous business relations.
The Rise of Aggression in Asia and Europe, 1933-1939
The international stability and cooperation in Europe and Asia, which the U.S. government had sought to create in the past, were nonetheless crumbling as “‘the Axis powers’ had begun their aggressive campaigns of conquest in various parts of Europe and Asia by the late 1930s” (Allport 60).
Japan and Incursion in China
Throughout the 19th century Asia was in the commercial and cultural interests of the United States. O’Neill argues that “Americans felt entitled to change some aspects of Asian culture for the better [and that was why] “American missionaries, as well as experts, were sent to several countries, such as Siam, Japan and China in order to give advice to the countries’ governments” (173).
However, the U.S.-Japanese relations changed for the worse right after World War I, “when Japan rejected American cultural notions” (Durante 53). In the first place, there was a clash between the systems of government. As Conlin claims, “Japan was an authoritarian state dominated by a military, of fourteen Japanese prime ministers between 1932 and 1945, only four were civilians (and the army assassinated two of them)” (692).
Subsequently, there was another clash as Japan had been trying to protect its “interests in China” and advocated expanding its claims in Asia. The power of the Japanese militarists grew and it was no surprise that Japanese navy expanded into the south Asia at the beginning of the 1930s. Under such circumstances, the diplomatic channels which were opened many years earlier between the United States and Japan quickly deteriorated.
The first conflict erupted in Asia in 1931, when Japan occupied Manchuria and set up so-called “puppet state” Manchukuo.
Manchuria had been controlled by a Chinese warlord and thus belonged to China, at least in theory. [However], China was too weak to enforce its rule and Japan had more than one reason to seize it. Manchuria was the source of essential raw materials for Japan, such as iron ore, coal, petroleum and rubber as well as of foodstuffs. Further, the Great Depression of the 1930s ruined Japan’s export trade, and closed Japan’s markets in the United States. If Japan gained control of the rich resources of Southeast Asia, it would enable the country to become self-sufficient again. (O’Neill 173)
The Manchuria incident—as it was called—was in fact, not a mere conflict, but was rather an undeclared war. The League of Nations itself denounced the attack, but no sanctions were imposed against Japan, because “Japan withdrew from the League of Nations early in 1933 and a year later also renounced the Five-Power Treaty” (Tindall 1071).
The Japanese thus got off unpunished and their aggression continued. In the summer of 1937, as Brands states, “the Japanese troops tangled with Chinese soldiers at the Marco Polo Bridge near Beijing [and] in the autumn of that the same year Japan launched a full-scale war against China” (482). Technically, these two countries were in a state of war, but neither Japan nor China officially announced that a state of war would exist between them.
At that time, “FDR had little difficulty distinguishing the aggressors from the victims in the Sino-Japanese war” (Brands 482). Right from the start, he was in the process of evaluation “whether to invoke the neutrality law and embargo weapons or not” (Brands 483). FDR did not want to embroil the United States in the East Asian conflict because, “the U.S. commerce with Japan was three times that with China” (LaFeber 388).
However, as “the sympathies of Americans went out to the Chinese” (Brands 482), “he obtained a 50 million-dollar credit from Congress so that besieged China could have bought cotton, wheat, and airplane parts. He also spent 238 million dollars as “public works” to begin building 32 warships. [Moreover], he tried to cut off European loans to Japan” (LaFeber 380).
The more Japan continued to violate China, the more the president’s desire for sanctions grew. In August 1937 as the Japanese inhumanity had plumbed new depths in the conflict, he truly believed, that something had to be done against “the epidemic of international lawlessness” (Roosevelt). He delivered his “Quarantine Speech” in Chicago, in autumn 1937, at the very least, in order to get the attention of the public and probably “prod others to help formulate a programme” (Lowenthal 415), but the isolationists turned a deaf ear to the President’s appeal. Finally, almost two years later in 1939, Roosevelt was able “to give [the Japanese] the six-month notice required to cancel a commercial treaty with Japan” (O’Neill 174-175).
The third issue which increased tension between the United States and Japan during the 1930s was the Japanese attack on the American gunboat Panay. The vessel was attacked in December 1937 by Japanese planes. “Three Americans were killed, eleven others wounded and the vessel was sent to the bottom of the Yangtze River” (Brands 495).
Although the Japanese government apologized for the “unhappy mistake” (Brands 495) and paid reparations, their intentions were nonetheless crystal clear. “According to the Secretary of State—Cordell Hull—the attack was a warning to the United States not to get involved in Japan’s fight with China” (qtd. in Brands 495). FDR was worried. He did not want to take military action against Japan, in part because “the U.S. navy lacked the ability to project American power against Japan in China and in part because he knew he had almost no support in isolationist opposition in Congress for such action” (Brands 496).
Roosevelt, moreover, did not believe that the accident of Panay was simply the “unhappy accident” and thus he wanted to be prepared in case his assumption proved to be right. In any event, “in April 1939, FDR sent fresh requests to Congress, including a half billion-dollar measure to create a 5 500-plane air force” (LaFeber 389). Shortly after the incident reinforced the animosity of Americans towards an expanding “Japanese empire” “the two close friends of the 1920s were then on a collision course” (LaFeber 389).
At the beginning of the 1920s as Italy was suffering from dissension, because of individual political parties. The state was a breeding ground for the fascist movement. In 1922 Benito Mussolini was appointed Prime Minister and set out principles of his program, in which he promised to restore order and pride in the country. However, when he was in office, “he abandoned the socialist part of his platform and gradually suppressed all political opposition” (Tindall 1071).
In 1925 Mussolini declared himself Il Duce (the Leader) of Italy and took matters into his own hands. Although Italy was a country “locked into poverty” (Conlin 692), Mussolini attacked Ethiopia in 1935. “The League of Nations condemned Italy as the aggressor and imposed economic sanctions, but the embargo omitted oil and coal, which were the vital resources for the Italian fleet and war machine” (Link 313).
In autumn 1936, Italy and Germany “coincidentally” established a political and military alliance, and at the same time civil war broke out in the Spanish Republic. “General Francisco Franco led the army against the democratic government of Spain” (Link 314). Nationalists, supported by the new “allies”—Italy and Germany—were determined to smash the Loyalist opposition, which was supported by France and the USSR.
Although most Americans sympathized with the Loyalists, few Americans wanted: the U.S. government to get involved and neither did Roosevelt. Moreover, FDR invoked the neutrality law against Spain, forbidding the shipment of American armament, but to invoke the law against Germany and Italy would require invoking the same law also against France and the USSR, which might harm the Loyalist and which would entangle the United States in Europe’s affairs. (Brands 480)
Eventually Congress made FDR a powerless observer. As David McCullough claims, “Congress had passed a series of neutrality laws forbidding the President to take sides. Whenever Roosevelt suggested that the United States play any part on the world stage, he met with violent isolationist opposition. Two congressmen even threatened him with impeachment.” (American Experience: FDR) [Thus], Roosevelt had to move cautiously.
The economic depression of the 1930s affected the prosperity of many states all over the world. The Weimar Republic was also nearly paralyzed by the economic downturn, when the popularity of National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) began to rise among middle class Germans. “In July 1932 the Nazis won 230 seats in the Reichstag—Germany’s parliament—which made them the largest political party.” “In 1933, the Nazi regime came to power and Adolf Hitler became the chancellor of Germany” (O’Neill 145). When the Nazis promised to restore the German economy and pride as well as to rebuild German state itself, it was an easy task for Hitler “to promote the racism, right-wing extremism and propaganda in the unstable economic times” (McNeese 19).
In March 1934, the Enabling Act was passed by the Reichstag and those political parties which were in opposition were crushed or dissolved. “Three months later, in August 1934, the Reich president—Paul von Hindenburg—died and Hitler immediatelly abolished his [Hindenburg’s] office” (McNeese 21). Following Mussolini, Hitler “took up a position of der Führer (undisputed German dictator) and ushered in a new era of ‘the Third Reich’” (McNeese 21).
Soon afterwards Hitler pulled Germany out of the League of Nations, quit all disarmament conferences and clashed with Reciprocal Trade Agreements. Furthermore, “he built up an internal police and introduced compulsory military service” (LaFeber 379). An icing on the cake was then the occupation of the demilitarized Rhineland in 1936. As LaFeber states, “the Americans watched with apprehension but did little because they believed that the British and French were responsible for maintaining peace in Europe” (379-380).
In 1937 it became obvious that the three aggressors—Japan, Italy, Germany—would form an alliance. An Anti-Commitern Pact of November 1936 was agreed to and what was known as Rome–Berlin Axis transformed into Rome–Berlin–Tokyo Axis. Worse lay ahead for the United States and the rest of Europe. Hitler was determined to expand German territory and one crisis after another was on the horizon. The first of them was Anschluss. On March 12, 1938 Germany annexed Austria. A few months later, Hitler demanded “self-determination for the Sudetenland and its inhabitants” (Tindall 1073). In other words, he was prepared to seize “the mountainous territory, largely German in population” (Tindall 1073), which became a part of Czechoslovakia after the World War I and which had never been a part of Germany.
Although the French and British had guaranteed the borders of Czechoslovakia, both western democracies knew that they were absolutely militarily unprepared for war. Moreover, when “FDR privately told them [British and French], that he could not help them if conflict erupted” (LaFeber 390) because of the Neutrality Acts, the British Prime Minister—Neville Chamberlain—decided to follow the traditional policy of appeasement and went to Munich, where he and the state official of France—Edouard Daladier—surrendered the Sudetenland to Hitler.
As Lowenthal describes president’s reaction: “FDR still torn between his instinctive caution and fear of isolationist sentiment [in the country] and his desire to act as a leader of the democracies, he recognized the nature of the Munich settlement and the need to increase visible means of U.S. power” (417-418). FDR then initiated a military build-up. As Link states, “After the Congress authorized naval construction, in October 1938, FDR announced increase in American spending for defense purposes, called upon his military advisers to plan for huge increases in aircraft production and asked for the regular defense establishment” (316).
Congress and American public responded favorably to the “two-thirds increase of military and naval budgets because the buildup still did not mean direct involvement in a war” (Link 317). Even though Hitler claimed that the Sudetenland was the last of his territorial claims, Germany absorbed the rest of the Czechoslovakia soon after the German-Czech crisis on March 15, 1939.
Yet Hitler was not satisfied, he had wanted war. He and Stalin signed the Nonaggression pact on August 23, 1939, in which they secretly carved Poland up like a pie. On September 1, 1939 Germany attacked Poland, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany and the peace in Europe was definitely over.
The Roosevelt’s conduct of foreign policies in the years 1933-1937 clearly depicted that FDR intended to play a role as the world’s peacekeeper. His main objective was to prevent more violence. However, as his hands were tied by the isolationist and neutrality legislation, he had “to rely on symbols to answer the challenges and threats from abroad” (Dallek 529). He denounced the attacks of aggressors through his condemnatory speeches and worldwide appeals, he tried to “encourage leaders and peoples everywhere to work against war and, specifically, to signal aggressors that the United States was not indifferent to their plans” (Dallek 530).
The United States and Neutrality, 1936-1939
A deepening crisis at home and tension in Europe in the 1930s disillusioned U.S. citizens and “brought back painful memories of World War I” (American Experience: FDR). America was paralyzed and thus moving step by step towards the complete isolation, even so Franklin D. Roosevelt was convinced that “the United States must engage in a foreign policy of internationalism” (Durante 74). The struggle between “those who believed that the less one had to do with Europe the better; and those willing to join the League of Nations and to actively participate in its humanitarian projects” (Ferrell 82) contributed to a split in the American political spectrum and set back further development of FDR’s foreign policy-making as well.
Isolationism vs. Internationalism
After a “public opinion poll of 1935 showed that 95 percent of Americans believed that their country had no vital interests in both Europe and Asia,” (qtd. in Conlin 690) a heated debate over U.S. foreign policy sharpened. The first group (isolationists) was determined to follow a policy of non-involvement in foreign conflicts, which was “dominant ideology and one of the oldest traditions in American history” (Link 312) in order to maintain complete freedom of action, whereas the second group (internationalists) advocated that “the world was brought together by political and economic ties [as well as] by responsibility for international coooperation and maintenance of a stable world” (LaFeber 383).
Franklin D. Roosevelt and his worldview
Franklin Roosevelt’s parents had been cultivating his internationalist mind, since he was a child. The Grand Tours were commonplace for the American aristocrats and the Roosevelts’ were no exception. “The family spent a lot of time by traveling round the big cities of Europe and socializing with their counterparts” (Dallek 3). Franklin often accompanied his parents, so Britain, France and Germany were according to Brands his homes for few months every year (21). He acquired knowledge of languages and culture there and “became as comfortable at sea as on land and as familiar with the countries of Europe as with his own” (Brands 21).
FDR’s upbringing and education (including FDR’s passion for history and economics) were essential for the formation of his political and economic views. They shaped his life view as well as his sense of internationalism and eventually led to his later success. FDR was also encouraged not only to be consciouss of his priviliged life, but also “to feel responsibility for those, who were less fortunate” (Dallek 5). As David McCullough states, “the President who championed the common men was not like most Americans” (American Experience: FDR). When he became president in 1933, his views gained in popularity and Franklin’s sympathy toward the ordinary Americans was soon a thorn in his opponents’ sides and as Brands states eventually led to the epithet “traitor to his class” (820).
Franklin was also greatly influenced by skillful politicians Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. “After Theodore Roosevelt became president in 1901, Franklin’s admiration knew no bounds. He [Roosevelt] visited him a number of times and listened with rapt attention as the President discoursed on Panama, the Congress and the public service” (Dallek 6). “Wilson made a strong impression. FDR bolstered Wilson’s prospects and combined his progressivism with consistent support of Woodrow Wilson for President” (Dallek 7). FDR was inspired by those “great men” as well as the whole generation and naturally followed their political careers to some extent.
FDR himself was a convinced Democrat influenced by the lofty ideals of Wilson’s internationalism. As Dallek claims, FDR argued that, “It was not important how America resumed her proper role in the world, but that she took part” (16). “His views tended strongly–albeit not uniformly–internationalist, but his governing coalition contained many isolationists” (Brands 480). He believed that “collective cooperation would help to preserve international peace” (Braumoeller 19), but his view was not supported by the majority of Americans. Roosevelt’s options were limited, partly by the U.S. Congress and partly by Americans themselves, because he depended on the public opinion as well. By force of circumstances of the 1930s FDR decided to remain neutral because “it was abundantly clear that president [FDR] could not carry on his work as molder of foreign policy in an isolationist vacuum” (Robinson 233). Furthermore, he knew that he could not lead the Americans where they were not willing to go. Thus, he became more often “a captive of public opinion rather than an audacious leader during the pre-war period” (Link 311).
The Neutrality Acts
Isolationist feelings intensified when Republican Senator Gerald P. Nye chaired the Munitions Investigating Committee, which “investigated the causes of U.S. involvement in World War I” (LaFeber 383). Although the committee came to the conclusion that “the United States had been manipulated into the war by bankers and munition makers who intended to make profit from the war” (Ferrell 100), the explanation itself was much more complicated. In fact, the entire American system seemed to be at fault.
However, J. P. Morgan, du Ponts and many others “merchants of death”, were labelled as the villains, who pushed America into the conflict, because they wanted to profit from arms sales. As soon as the Committee highlighted these facts, journalists made an issue of “Nye’s extravagant claims” (Conlin 690) and convinced many Americans that “intervention in 1917 had been a ghastly mistake” (Link 312).
Moreover, a wave of pacifism affected the American people, especially the academic world of universities. As people were encouraged to manifest their anti-war beliefs, “college students across the country staged a peace strike” (Brands, ch.32) and in the mid-1930s, a general dislike of internationalism was formalized in the pronouncement of Neutrality Acts, which were designed to keep the United States out of war once and for all. Yet, the “passing of neutrality laws did not end the nationwide debate over the non-involvement, which was resolved much later—after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor” (Robinson 238-239). However, the Nye Committee’s findings as well as international situation formed the background of the debate.
The first Neutrality Act was passed in 1935 and was set to expire after six months. From then on, “it was forbidden to sell arms and munitions to all belligerents whenever the president proclaimed that a state of war existed and the president was empowered to discourage the Americans to travel on belligerents’ ships.” (Hamilton 271).
As Italians invaded Ethiopia in 1936, the League of Nations was able to impose some sanctions on Italy, but only condemned Italy as the aggressor in 1935 and did nothing more. “The League was under the strong British pressure supporting nonintervention and all the embargoes omitted the export of oil, coal and other essential raw materials” (Link 313). Despite the United States “had unofficial observers at the League’s headquarters” (Tindall 1065), it was not an official member of the League of Nations and thus pursued its own foreign policy. FDR invoked the Neutrality Act but was not authorized by Congress to apply any kind of embargo, except for a “moral embargo”. It was also evident, that “trade in material not covered by the Neutrality Act was the key problem, not weapon traffic or passenger travel” (Tindall 1075).
The Neutrality Act of 1936 amended the earlier law and further restricted the power of the president. According to this Act “it was prohibited to grant loans and credits to nations at war and was set to expire after fourteen months” (qtd. in Braumoeller 19),
The Neutrality Act of 1937 made the Neutrality Act of 1936 then permanent, because no expiration date was set in the legislation and Congress extended the neutrality laws “to cover civil wars in order to stay out of the Spanish Civil War” (qtd. in Braumoeller 19-20). Whereas the “western democracies stood by, German and Italian soldiers, planes and armaments supported Fascists” (Tindall 1076). Franco not only overthrew the Spanish democracy in 1939, but also secured his dictatorship. Furthermore, the act restrained arms sales and loans, forbade Americans to travel on belligerents’ ships and prohibited the arming of U.S. ships.
In 1937 the isolationist mood peaked in the United States. “The Gallup poll showed,” as Brands notes, “that 95 percent of respondents wanted the United States to stay out of the war, 84 percent wanted Britain and France to defeat Germany” (531-532). It was evident that with a growing number of violent attacks the Americans began to alter their positions and so did the president. However, when FDR delivered his speech to Americans on October 5, 1937, in which he “denounced the aggressions and suggested to response forcefully” (“Quarantine Speech”), people were still unwilling to act and FDR could not “pretend about his own impartiality any longer” (Brands 512).
The eruption of the Sino-Japanese War (1937), Hitler’s occupation of Czechoslovakia (1939) and eventually Hitler’s attack on Poland (1939) convinced the president that the U.S. neutral position was ineffective. “Germany, Italy and Japan were threatening the peace and safety of the entire world and Roosevelt feared that if something was not done to head the aggressors off, there would be a disaster” (Schraff 49). With this “newborn idea” in his mind, he was trying to find a way on how to support the western democracies, which desperately needed American aid (particularly to buy armaments) while remaining officially neutral.
FDR was determined to do “at least something”, but the neutrality acts made any closer cooperation impossible. That was why Roosevelt asked Congress to repeal the 1935 arms embargo for the first time at the beginning of 1939. When Congress refused to do so, FDR claimed in his “fireside” radio talk, that “he would not like Woodrow Wilson in 1914, ask Americans to remain neutral in thought [because] even a neutral had a right to take account of the facts [and] cannot be asked to close his mind or his conscience” (“On the European War”).
When World War II broke out few months later, FDR asked Congress once again and finally succeeded. “Under the Neutrality Act of 1939, belligerents (particularly Britain) could send their own frighters to the United States, buy supplies with cash, and take away arms or anything else they wanted. War zones were specified and American merchant ships were excluded from the ports of warring nations” (Tindall 1078).
As Robert Divine summarizes, a cash and carry basis “was formally a neutral policy and ingenious method of preserving the profits of neutral trade while minimizing the risk of involvement and since the British controlled the seas (British blockade) the legislation was of benefit” (qtd. in LaFeber 385). Furthermore, as there was a high demand for U.S. war goods in Europe, cash and carry basis also helped to boost the U.S. economy.
On the other hand, as with any other legislation, even the neutrality legislation had its disadvantages. As McNeese argues, “the Acts may have actually encouraged aggression, since the United States was making it clear through the acts that it was not going to do anything that might lead to war, including arming the victims of aggressive dictators” (30). Even LaFeber states, that
the U.S. neutral position enabled Ford and General Motors subsidiaries to produce half of Hitler’s tanks in the 1930s, because it was profitable for some of the U.S. prominent companies (du Pont, Standard Oil, General Motors and Union Carbide) to work closely—sometimes even secretly and illegally—with Nazi German firms until the late 1930s, or in some cases, even to 1941. (383)
The U.S. neutrality policy had worked more or less in reverse than it was intended and even the president admitted that. On the one hand, it helped the economy and kept the United States out of war for six years, but on the other, the Neutrality Acts considerably disrupted the European “balance of power” because the aggressors were enabled to arm themselves quickly as well as easily without resistance.
In the period of “legislated neutrality” FDR, convinced that the United States had to play a significant role in international power politics, tried to persuade Congress that “the policies had to be considered in the light of events beyond its borders” (Robinson 233), but all his efforts were to no avail. As Robert Dallek states:
He [FDR] catered to the isolationist and pacifist sentiment in the country, but if he had his druthers, he would avoid war not by retreating from international politics, but by participation in international politics. (...) He wanted to avoid war, but the way to do it, he felt, was not to be isolationist, was not to pass these neutrality bills. (American Experience: FDR)
FDR and the War in Europe
Franklin D. Roosevelt and his cabinet still cherished a hope that it was possibile to remedy the situation in Europe in early 1938, but the Munich Treaty did not bring either peace or stability to Europe. In effect, the Munich Accord only added fuel to the fire. “The British prime minister, who had never been a defender of communism, was stuck to his appeasement” (LaFeber 391) and thus unwilling to cooperate with the Soviet Union in any case. When “Stalin strove to steel the Western democracies against Hitler’s demands on Czechoslovakia, offering military assistance to the Czechs [in 1938], his proposal was rebuffed by the West” (Brands 523). Ironically, the refusal probably led Stalin to sign the German-Russian Nonaggression Pact on August 23, 1939.
As “British and French leaders demonstrated their own incompetence as diplomats” (Link 316), the “failure of appeasement” was immediately apparent even to president himself who was “privately deeply concerned”, but powerless. (American Experience: FDR). “Roosevelt’s condemnatory speeches were [now] worse than useless” (Johnson 345). A family friend of Roosevelts—Trude Lash—stated: “When Hitler ridiculed the powerless president with withering sarcasm in 1938, [FDR] felt that, in the end, a war was unavoidable.” (American Experience: FDR)
In January 1938, FDR submitted a proposal to Congress in which he suggested military and naval rearmament “specifically and solely because of the piling up of additional land and sea armaments in other countries” (Roosevelt, “The President Recommends” 69). The defensive measures were widely debated by Congress during the spring, shortly before the Great Britain and France declared war against the Nazis in September 1939. Congress, as well as the American public, gave their consent to the proposal and FDR guided by his instinct began to implement a new rearmament program.
“In May 1938 Congress authorized the expenditure of some $1 billion for naval construction. Subsequently, in October 1938, FDR announced a $300 million increase in American spending for defense purposes. Furthermore, he called upon his military advisers to plan for huge increases in aircraft production. In January 1939, he asked for $1.3 billion for the regular defense establishment and an additional $525 million from Congress, most of it for airplanes.” (Link 316)
As Germany occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, events moved rapidly in Europe as well as in the United States. FDR again made an appeal for peace while Britain and France guaranteed the borders of Poland. The countries were still unprepared for war when Germany attacked Poland on September 3, 1939; however, two days later both Great Britain and France declared war on Germany. Although the United States declared its neutrality on September 5, 1939, the Munich crisis strongly motivated Roosevelt to support the western democracies, but (for the time being) only within the bounds of the neutrality laws. He was convinced that “only force would stop Hitler” and hoped that “with American aid, the French and British could do the job” (Conlin 694).
Relations with Britain
A cultural and historical heritage united America and Great Britain for centuries. It was not only common belief, language, traditions, but also common democratic ideals what helped to form close political and military alliance in the final stages of World War I and promoted cooperation which continued even in the postwar period.
However, before 1940 the Anglo-American relations were surprisingly cold. In the 1930s, there was a mutual mistrust growing between both countries’ leaders—Neville Chamberlain and Franklin D. Roosevelt. “Chamberlain was frustrated by the USA’s track record” while “Roosevelt regarded Chamberlain as a ‘City man’, anxious to promote business links with Germany rather than cooperate with the USA’s free trade policy” (Bell 601-602). As the leaders did not find common ground, they were unable to overcome all the dissagreements over their policies regarding both Japan and Germany. Moreover, strict U.S. neutrality contributed to the fact that the Anglo-American relations slowly deteriorated.
The Visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1939
In June 1939, FDR did something that “no president had ever done before” (American Experience: FDR). He invited King George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth to the United States. FDR got very involved in planning the event. As Eleanor Roosevelt recollected, “the visit was prepared very carefully” (American Experience: FDR). “The British Royal couple visited Washington and New York, attended the World Fair, and relaxed at Roosevelt’s Hyde Park home” (Bell 599). Both leaders enjoyed each other’s company to the extent that they struck up a friendship. As Geoffrey Ward stated, “FDR sat up with ‘George’ quite late at night, and finally put his hand on his knee and said, ‘Young man, it’s time for you to go to bed.’ And the King later said to one of his aides, ‘Why don’t my ministers talk to me that way?’” (qtd. in American Experience: FDR).
On the whole, as David Reynolds claims Britain and America formed a “special relationship” (1), which was “influenced by psychological and emotional ties” (Bell 615). The 1939 royal visit went down in history as a gesture of sympathy, friendship and support. It eliminated the tension between the two nations which was most visible during the 1930s and also encouraged the U.S. public to “adopt a more positive approach to the future Anglo-American cooperation” (Dallek 530). In fact, FDR truly believed, that the surest road to peace was to provide material aid to Britain. As he scrupulously avoided the use of military force, it was also the only way how FDR could play an active role in the 1930s diplomacy.
FDR and Winston Churchill
Besides showing overwhelming kindness, hospitality and support to the royal couple, FDR soon developed friendly and cooperative relations with Winston Churchill. “Roosevelt and Churchill had communicated only once since their 1918 encounter” (Brands 527), but in 1933 “a copy of Churchill’s biography (...) containing an inscription endorsing the New Deal was sent to Roosevelt and provided him a pretext for striking up a correspondence” (Brands 527). As Hitler’s divisions “knifed through Denmark, Norway, Holland and Belgium” in April-May 1940, the period of Hitler’s inactivity known as “phony war” ended. Neville Chamberlain resigned and Winston Churchill became the new prime minister of Great Britain.
Winston Churchill was a charismatic person, perceptive observer and a master of conversation. Soon afterwards, both he and FDR found common ground and the mixture of “common interests, values and personal ties in the face of common threat made the relationship especially close” (Reynolds 6) as well as important. On September 11, 1939, Roosevelt wrote a personal letter to Churchill, in which he suggested to Churchill “to bypass the normal channels of the American State Department and the British Foreign Office” (Brands 528).
“I shall at all times welcome it if you will keep me in touch personally with anything you want me to know about, you can always send sealed letters through your pouch or my pouch. I hope you will at all times feel free to write me personally and outside of diplomatic procedure about any problems as they arise.” (qtd. in Brands 528)
Such private correspondence was the only way for them how to speak about things with complete frankness. Moreover, it helped to strengthen the Roosevelt-Churchill relationship in times when they were not able to meet personally. Thus, they “wrote each other several times a week and regularly spoke by telephone” (Brands 2).
The Arsenal of Democracy
Still supporting non-involvement, Roosevelt following a shift in public opinion pushed pressure on Congress in November 1939 and finally succeeded—the arms embargo was lifted. Furthermore, as the circumstances in Europe in May 1940 combined with Churchill’s appeal inclined president to take further steps to military preparedness, “he [FDR] called for production of 50,000 aircraft a year, requested from Congress an additional $1 billion in defense expenditures, and asked for authority to call the National Guard and reserves into active service” (Link 318). However, “partial defense was inadequate defense” (qtd. in Brands 570) and “FDR asked Congress for another $4.8 billion for military and defensive purposes” (Link 318) in July 1940.
When France fell, the crisis brought Britain and the United States closer together. As all obstacles for the German were removed, the German Luftwaffe was free to bomb the British Isles. Although isolationist sentiment prevailed in the United States, FDR running for the third term sought to aid Britain in their struggle against Nazis, because the survival of Britain was vital to the U.S. defense. As Reynolds claims, “the Royal Navy was regarded as America’s ‘front line’ against German expansion into the Atlantic. For a disarmed and disorganized America, Britain’s empire was a source of key raw materials as well as a “bulwark against Japanese aggression in Asia” (6).
Meanwhile, Henry L. Stimson and Frank Knox (members of Republican Party) were named to the defense posts in FDR’s cabinet in June 1940. According to Tindall, in order to bolster national unity and ensure further U.S. military build-up efforts (1080). Justified by defense purposes, FDR established the Selective Service System, the first peacetime conscription in the U.S. history, which “registered men between the ages of 21 and 35 and planned to train more than 1.2 million troops within a year (O’Neill 282) and “Congress appropriated $37 billion to build up the navy and army air corps” (Conlin 694).
The production of military equipment (particularly airplanes) accelerated in autumn 1940, but Great Britain was out of cash and the neutrality act prohibiting Americans to loan money to belligerents was still valid. However, the Destroyer Deal brought a solution to the hopeless situation. Despite the criticism of Charles A. Lindbergh, Gerald P. Nye and other members of the America First Committee, “fifty U.S. destroyers were sent to the British in return for ninety-nine-year American leases on naval and air bases in British territories in the Caribbean” (Tindall 1080).
As Roosevelt stated that “preparation for defense was an inalienable prerogative of a sovereign state” (qtd. in Robinson 243), he once again emphasized that his highest priority was still to keep the country out of war.
The Lend-Lease Program
In December 1941, Churchill desperately needed U.S. help more than ever before. FDR intended to increase production of American goods in order to supply Britain and opened the way for the closer Anglo-American cooperation program—Lend-Lease Act—which was approved in March 1941.
By this arrangement, the President was authorized “to sell, transfer title to, exchange, lease, lend or otherwise dispose of any defense article to any nation whose defense the president finds vital to the security of the United States” (qtd. in Robinson 269).
As Roosevelt lobbied hard for the bill, he stated that the purpose of Lend-Lease was “to keep Britain in the war that the United States might stay out” (qtd. in Brands 577). Even though he probably knew that this particular strategy involved a risk of war, once again, president “outmaneuvered the lawmakers” (American Experience: FDR) and thus “coverted the Unites States from a friendly neutral into a full-fledged nonbelligerent” (Link 322).
The Atlantic Charter
Whereas the Lend-Lease Act was rather a practical application resolving the issue of providing U.S. material and financial aid to Britain, the Atlantic Charter was rather a declaration of “certain common princliples on which the two governments based their hopes for a better future for the world” (Roosevelt, “Atlantic Charter” 314). According to O’Neill,
the principles were: no territorial aggrandizement, no territotial changes that did not accord with the wishes of the people involved, the right of all peoples to choose their own form of government, economic collaboration in the postwar world, and the right of all peoples to live in peace and in freedom from fear, want, and aggression (327).
When the war in Europe broke out and “FDR felt that a war was unavoidable” (American Experience: FDR), he stressed the importance of “Americans defending freedom and democracy” (“On the ‘Arsenal of Democracy’”) in his fireside chat in December 1940. In response to the events in Europe and Asia, he initiated new rearmament program in order to be prepared to defend the principles of democracy. He also opened the way for the closer Anglo-American cooperation, which was based on the same principles. As both nations were linked by a long-time bond of common belief, language, traditions and democratic ideals, a shared hope and sympathy of British and American leaders even strengthened both countries’ “special relationship”. Furthermore, as FDR officially announced that the purpose of Lend-Lease was “to keep Britain in the war that the United States might stay out” (qtd. in Brands 577), this particular statement supports the thesis that FDR did not intend to lead the country to war.
FDR and Media
When Franklin D. Roosevelt started his political career in 1911, he was a beginner in the field. As with any other politican, FDR needed practice in order to gain support of people to become a respectable leader. Subsequently, he met Louis Howe, “a strange-looking reporter and seasoned politician in one person” with whom he formed one of the oddest alliances in American political history” (American Experience: FDR).
Howe understood New York state politics very well. As Curtis Roosevelt states, “Louis Howe knew where all the bodies were buried, and FDR needed to know, that was why he soon became his political adviser” (American Experience: FDR). Louis devoted himself to Franklin and taught him how to make a good impression as well as how to support his public image.
“Roosevelt strongly believed in the importance of direct communication with the public” (American Experience: FDR) and when he became the president of the United States, his public image was greatly supported by the media. In his evening radio broadcasts called ‘Fireside Chats’, he explained to the people everything what he was doing and they appreciated that. Furthermore, when he was presenting his ideas to the public, “he always employed the first person plural in order to [not only] proclaim his fellow feelings with ordinary people, [but also] to made an emotional public appeal” (Maurois 141-143). In fact, FDR relied much on public opinion polls, which had become “frequent and reliable enough to influence his foreign policy” (Brands 346). For Roosevelt’s prewar diplomacy, the polls were essential and he was guided by them to a large extent.
On the other hand, the president found a way on how to “enjoy cooperation of the mass media in varying degrees and for various reasons” (Steele, “Great Debate” 92). He knew very well how to communicate with reporters and what information should be said on purpose. Thus, he was able to take advantage of the mass media at any time,
Except for the nation’s newspapers, which never served the administration’s propaganda needs in the way the others did (...) motion pictures, radio, and the press, often brought the administration’s story to the public, supported the president’s interpretation of events, and, on the whole, effectively minimized the public’s access to the other perspective. (Steele, “Great Debate” 91-92)
“Roosevelt’s campaign against isolationism led him to challenge the ideal of an informed public and a free press” (Steele, “Franklin D. Roosevelt” 24) and proved to be practical, particularly when “the struggle between the internationalists and the isolationists blurred party and ideological lines, pitting Democrats against Democrats, Republicans against Republicans, liberals against liberals, conservatives against conservatives” (Brands 479). It enabled Roosevelt to avoid making ambiguous statements in complicated situations, especially in 1936 and later in 1940 when he ran for reelection. According to Brands, he also very often spoke off the record, because he needed to keep his options open (368).
Although “Roosevelt prided himself on his thick skin, he was annoyed and sensitized by the hostile, and sometimes unfair, press coverage he received during his first two terms” (Steele, “Franklin D. Roosevelt” 25), which probably only reinforced his idea that his “information policy of vagueness” was beneficial.
Roosevelt’s audience had to wonder what this or that statement really meant, because he didn’t say. Thus FDR took a wait-and-see approach, which provoked many journalists, FDR’s opponents and critics of his foreign policies to misinterpret not only his views, but also the main objectives of his foreign policies.
Nonetheless, as long as FDR was used to make—what historians call—“canny political manoeuvres” his true intentions remained hidden. “Even historians are uncertain to this day of Roosevelt’s intentions. Did he intend all along to take the nation to war, or simply to contain Adolf Hitler and the Japanese warlords by interventionist measures short of hostilities?” (Steele, “Great Debate” 69) As David Reynolds suggests, “Roosevelt himself may never have been certain of the role the United States would play in the world conflict” (Steele, “Great Debate” 69) until the morning of December 7, 1941.
Towards Pearl Harbor
Although “some historians claim that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was a genuine surprise” (Cole 606), it was rather a result of the political tension and ideological polarity which repeatedly occured between the United States and Japan during the 1930s. There had been a tension between the United States and Japan since the Japanese started their conquest of Manchuria and China. As the aggression in the Far East posed a threat to the U.S., British and French “dominions” in 1941, “Japan’s renewed assertiveness compelled Roosevelt [who had been consumed by the European matters for the last few years] to reconsider his attitude toward Tokyo” (Brands 568).
Japaneese Protectorate over Indochina
As Clifford states, “the Manchurian episode [of 1931] had left a legacy of distrust between the two countries” (137). However, the situation got worse later in 1940 as the positions of France and Britain in Asia weakened and Japan was still longing for territorial expansion of its Pacific empire.
Japan’s inchoate drive for self-sufficiency interacted with violent changes in world politics and widening opportunities. The debilitating struggle in China turned the attention of the army southward to the resources of Indochina, the Dutch East Indies, and Malaya. (Heinrichs 32)
FDR decided “to guard against Tokyo’s taking advantage of Western vulnerability, and moved the Pacific Fleet, which had been based on the West Coast, to Pearl Harbor, where it would lie on the flank of any Japanese advance southward“ (Heinrichs 10) and also FDR announced “a possibility of abrogation of the Japanese-American Commercial Treaty of 1911, which might deny Japan access to more than half the raw materials, especially iron, steel, and oil after January 26, 1940” (Link 328). The United States thus opened the way for its most rigorous form of pressure—the trade embargo and “restrained the extreme militarists in Japan by the economic retaliation” (Link 328), but only temporarily.
Unfortunately, “the greater and more immediate threat was Germany” (Heinrichs 10). As Hitler triumphed in Europe, his success enchanted the Japanese militarists who began negotiating an alliance with Germany, “the U.S. government was determined to avoid provoking Japan” (Heinrichs 11). Once again, “America had moved to the fore as the chief representative of the western nations in dealing with Japan” (Clifford 154) and failed, because the result of the German-Japanese negotiations was the Tripartite Pact.
However, as French Indochina became Japanese protectorate in July 1941, Roosevelt—knowing that Japan was on the march—“forbade further sales to the Japanese of some strategic minerals and chemicals, airplane parts and aviation fuel. He [also] embargoed the export of scrap iron, oil and other products” (Link 329). Japan thus lost about 80 percent of its oil supplies and as soon as Britain and Holland adopted the same positions as the United States, “Japan was forced to choose between the occupation of Indochina or the war with the United States” (LaFeber 338).
Prime Minister of Japan and member of the royal family—Fumimaro Konoye—finally made a first move and suggested that Japan would eventually leave Indochina and China. Moreover, he called for a personal meeting with Roosevelt, however, “Secretary of State Hull urged the president not to meet Konoye” (Tindall 1087). According to historian Jonathan G. Utley, Hull’s insistence on total Japanese withdrawal from China would result in war (162), because “As “Konoye moderate and peaceseeking government” (Denson 153) fell in October, the minister of war—Hideki Tojo— became Prime Minister and it was he, who argued that Japan should respond to the embargo by launching the Pacific war” (O’Neill 333).
Even though both countries once again entered a “period of talks,” both sides were completely unrealistic in their demands, especially as far as the Japanese withdrawal from China and Indochina and the end of further Japanese territorial expansion were concerned, both governments agreed to disagree. “In a conversation with Admiral Nomura in March , he [Roosevelt] endorsed the idea that ‘matters between our two countries could undoubtedly be worked out without a military clash’” (qtd. in Dallek 272).
Furthermore, “FDR, though sceptical of success, encouraged further talks between November 7 and December 7” (271), but “primarily through Secretary Hull” (Burns 134-146). However, as Konoye resigned, it was then impossible to preserve peace, because the Japanese militarists (led by Tojo) would never agreed on withdrawal from China and the United States would never agreed on cutting off aid to China.
As Roosevelt later said, “They [Japanese] hate us, sooner or later, they’ll come after us” (American Experience: FDR). Finally, December 7, 1941 he was proved to be right.
The Attack on Pearl Harbor
Before the attack on the naval base Pearl Harbor, “the U.S. intelligence had cracked the top-secret Purple Code in which the Japanese communicated their most sensitive messages” (LaFeber 402-403). According to Burns, FDR felt that an attack by the Japanese was probable, but he really thought it much more likely that Japan would attack either Thailand or Malaya than the Philippines or Hawaii. (159) However, as the Japanese needed to reduce the strength of the U.S. Navy in order to be able to fight Americans and eventually defeat them in the Pacific, LaFeber states that “Pearl Harbor seemed to be a logical target because much of the U.S. Pacific Fleet anchored there” (404).
In fact, neither he nor any other member of his cabinet had any accurate information about where the Japanese government planned to attack the United States, until they finally struck on “Black Sunday”. As O’Neill described the attack was devastating,
At 7:55 a.m. the morning of December 7, 1941, the Japanese carriers launched an attack on Pearl Harbor. Two hours later, when the attack ended, the United States had lost 188 planes, with 159 others damaged. A total of 18 warships were sunk or disabled, including seven battleships. A total of 2,403 Americans lost their lives, while 1,178 were wounded. (264)
The Americans were shocked and humiliated, however, the members of FDR’s cabinet responded differently. “My first feeling,” Secretary of War Stimson wrote in his diary on December 7, “was of relief that the indecision was over.” (qtd. in LaFeber 404) The president probably had the same feeling. As Grace Tully recollected,
I was struck by how composed the president seemed, he had been lighting a cigarette when I came in. He inhaled deeply, then he began in the same calm tone in which he dictated his mail. Only his diction was a little different, as he spoke each word incisively and slowly, carefully specifying each punctuation mark and each paragraph. (256)
The following day FDR delivered his “Day of Infamy” speech. A mere six minutes after he began, he concluded by request: “I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire” (qtd. in Brands 632). Three days later, on December 11, 1941 Germany and Italy declared war on the United States and as Congress responded with another declaration of war on both Axis powers, the country officially entered the World War II.
According to Wayne Cole, many historians-revisionists contended that President Roosevelt followed policies that he knew would lead to war in Asia and Europe (606) as well as “accused the administration that it successfully provoked the Japanese into firing the first shot” (Denson 150) or even “that they orchestrated the ‘Pearl Harbor’ to lead the U.S. into war.” However, “no evidence to support the theories has ever been discovered” (O’Neill 264).
As Link followed the records of the administration, he concluded, that “the president and the State Department, far from designing war, were convinced that the Japanese could not undertake hostilities and would retreat in the face of a firm American policy (331).
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