Roosevelt Opposes Aggression
Roosevelt Opposes Aggression
War Erupts in Europe
Roosevelt’s words failed to prevent Japan from extending its control over much of China. Similarly, France and Britain’s efforts to appease Hitler in Europe failed to limit the dictator’s expansionist plans
By the end of 1938, even the leaders of France and Britain realized that Hitler’s armed aggression could only be halted by a firm, armed defense
The urgency of the situation grew in the spring of 1939 when Hitler violated the Munich Pact by absorbing the remainder of Czechoslovakia into his German Reich.
Realizing that Hitler’s next move would be against Poland, Britain and France signed an alliance with Poland, guaranteeing aid if Hitler attacked.
Hitler, however, was more concerned about war with the Soviet Union than with Britain and France.
Not wanting to fight a war on two fronts, Germany signed the Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact with the Soviets on August 23, 1939. The two former rivals publicly promised not to attack one another. Secretly, they agreed to invade and divide Poland and recognize each other’s territorial ambitions. The public agreement alone shocked the West and guaranteed a German offensive against Poland
France Falls to the Axis Powers
The Axis Powers eventually included Germany, Italy, Japan, and several other nations. The Allies included Britain, France, and eventually many other nations, including the Soviet Union, the United States, and China.
The next storm erupted with raging fury in the spring of 1940. Germany’s nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union freed Hitler to send his army west. On April 9, 1940, Germany attacked Denmark and Norway. The two countries fell almost immediately.
In early May 1940, German tanks rolled through the Ardennes, ripped a hole in the thin French line there, and raced north toward the English Channel.
The Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. The small nations fell like tumbling dominoes. Hitler seemed invincible; his army unstoppable.
Tactical German mistakes gave Britain enough time to evacuate its forces from the French port of Dunkirk. Some 338,000 British and French troops escaped, to Britain. Had they not escaped, it is doubtful if Britain could have remained in the war.
"Wars are not won by evacuations.” Although the British army escaped, the Germans took Paris and forced the French to surrender in the same railway car that the French had used for the German surrender in 1918.
The Battle of Britain Is Fought in the Air
Hitler’s plan to invade Britain, code-named Operation Sea Lion, depended upon Germany’s Luftwaffe, or air force, destroying the British Royal Air Force and gaining control over the skies above the English Channel.
The British lost nearly 1,000 planes, the Germans more than 1,700. Germany bombed civilian as well as military targets, destroying houses, factories, and churches and conducted a months-long bombing campaign
Churchill’s words stirred his nation as the British readied themselves for battle.
The British held on and, sensing failure, Hitler made a tactical decision to postpone the invasion of Britain indefinitely.
After the evacuation at Dunkirk, Churchill made it clear that he had no intention of continuing the policy of appeasement.
France had fallen to Hitler in just 35 days. Hitler next turned his fury on Britain
Interventionists Urge Support for the Allies
They argued that FDR’s policies violated American neutrality and threatened to push the United States into the war. Between early 1940 and late 1941, a great debate raged in America between isolationists and interventionists.
The debate became particularly heated after the fall of France left Britain standing by itself in Europe against Germany.
Many Americans disagreed with Roosevelt’s openly pro-Allies position
Interventionist organizations such as the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies claimed that Britain was fighting for free countries everywhere. Sending aid to Britain was a way for America to stay out of the conflict.
Though he issued a proclamation of American neutrality, he was firmly anti-Nazi and wanted to aid the democracies of Europe. In the end, Congress agreed and passed the Neutrality Act of 1939, which included a cash-and-carry provision. This provision allowed belligerent nations to buy goods and arms in the United States if they paid cash and carried the merchandise on their own ships. Since the British navy controlled the seas, cash-and-carry in effect aided the Allies.
Once war began in Europe, Roosevelt felt confined by the limitations of the Neutrality Acts.
America Favors Isolation
The rise of fascism in Europe made the sacrifices of World War I seem even more pointless.
Numerous books and articles presented a new theory about why the United States had become involved in World War I that disturbed many Americans. The theory held that big business had conspired to enter the war in order to make huge fortunes selling weapons.
The severe economic crisis of the Great Depression had served to pin the nation’s attention firmly on domestic affairs throughout the 1930s.
Congress passed the Neutrality Acts of 1935, 1936, and 1937. The acts imposed certain restrictions on Americans during times of war. For example, Americans were prohibited from sailing on ships owned by belligerents or nations at war. The acts also prevented Americans from making loans to belligerents or selling them arms and munitions.
President Roosevelt shared Churchill’s concerns, but at the beginning of the war in Europe he understood that the majority of Americans opposed U.S. intervention.
Roosevelt Opposes Aggression
In the midst of these bloody events, President Franklin Roosevelt criticized Japan’s aggression in a speech in Chicago on October 5, 1937. He suggested that no part of the world was truly isolated from the rest of the world
Roosevelt’s solution for stopping aggression involved an informal alliance of the peace-loving nations.
The speech was widely criticized, and for a time, the President backed away from his more interventionist stance
The unrestrained violence of the 1937 Japanese attack on China shocked Americans, even before the notorious Rape of Nanjing in December 1937. The Japanese had even sunk the United States gunboat Panay on the Chang River, killing three American sailors.