How America Came to War
James A. Gillmore
On December 29, 1940 Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave a speech to the country that was like a ?fireside chat? but was not. Roosevelt talked about in his speech statements about Germany’s plans to engulf the world during World War II:
??The Nazi masters of Germany have made if clear that they intend not only to dominate all life and thought in their own country, but also to enslave the whole of Europe and then to use the resources of Europe to dominate the rest of the world.?
This speech was one of many that FDR gave to put an end to the isolationism of the 1920’s and 30’s.
Although most of Europe was battling in World War II during the late 30’s and 40’s, America was convinced to stay neutral. Despite the fact that most Americans did not want to go to war, FDR thought war was inevitable. The US did not enter the war until they were truly directly affected by the war. But many countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Pacific were fighting in the war to defend their countries against the aggressive powers. The aggressive powers were called The Axis; they included Italy, Germany and Japan. Those countries formed an alliance because of their similarities: they were all ruled under a totalitarian government , they shared the same goals, they were very aggressive and ambitious countries in search of new land and its resources, and they at around the same time all began conquering parts of the world near to them.
The question is how did the war get started? First, the war was ignited when the separate countries of the Axis began to fulfill their ambitious dreams to conquer land for themselves. They did this with aggressive actions against other countries. For example, Germany under their dictator Hitler attacked Czechoslovakia, Poland, Austria and other small countries around Germany early in the war. Now when three different countries are attacking many other different countries around the world, little wars sprout up all over the place. For Germany, the harsh circumstances left from the Versailles Treaty of World War I planted seeds for a future war. The Versailles Treaty was really just a chance for the Allies to get revenge on Germany, not solve the problems of the past. Consequently, many problems and conflicts were left over from World War I for Germany and Italy.
So at that time those three aggressive powers began building up their military again although they were not allowed to according to the Versailles Treaty. They then began to expand their individual empires, which kicked in the alliance system again because countries like Britain and France backed the invaded countries, thus starting a new World War.
Between Wars (WW I and WW II)
Twenty-one years before World War II began World War I ended. The Central Powers lost against the Allies and were severely punished. Germany alone was in debt for 33 billion dollars. In total, 10 million soldiers and civilians were lost their lives in World War I. World War I was caused by great tension between many closely packed nationalistic, imperialistic and militaristic countries which were in need of ?living space.? Unfortunately these problems were not solved by the war and were carried on to World War II.
According to George Washington in 1796, ?Europe has a set of primary interests which to us [America] have none or very remote relation.?
That was the beginning of what we call isolationism. America lived by that precedent until World War I when the US felt it was legitimate to mediate the situation in Europe. After World War I, the United States went back to their old principle, ?We shun political commitments which might entangle us in foreign wars,? as FDR said in 1936 during the Great Depression . This was America’s strategy in the 1930’s because Americans had their own problems to deal with, not affairs across the world that did not concern them.
The United States went through a lull between the wars, from 1918 to 1939. First, the twenties were a time of prosperity. The twenties were called the ?Roaring Twenties? because of the booming industries, the rising stock market and the wealth of Americans. The twenties were basically happy times, but all good things must come to an end. In 1929 a chain reaction from downward up to the crashing of the stock market began the Great Depression. The Depression made life even worse for the Germans who had a difficult time rebuilding after the war. But America was hit the worst by the Depression. The Germans turned to Hitler because he promised to bring the country back together. Hitler thought War was the answer to Germany’s problems, thus, he began to build up his military. Hitler assembled the Nazi Party and became dictator of Germany. In 1932 over five million people were jobless in Germany and in 1936 fewer than 1 million people were jobless, plus the economy was much better. Nazism brought Germany out of the Depression and prosperity back to the country. As a result, Germans joined and supported the Nazi party. To solve Italy’s problems Benito Mussolini became dictator of Italy and built the Fascist movement . Mussolini also thought war would bolster his country’s economy. He invaded Ethiopia and Albania to distract his country’s people from their problems at home. At that point both Italy and Germany invaded new territory.
Throughout the 1930’s Japan became a very imperialist and militaristic country. While Japan is a small island country, it needs more raw materials and it also needs more ?living space.? Japan seeks its natural resources and land to the west in Asia. In 1932 the Japanese took over Manchuria in northeastern China. Many Pacific islands and parts of China were to follow.
Now the world had a total of three aggressive countries, which were ready to pounce on any country that came their way. These three countries all did not please the American interests. Those countries had non-democratic governments, they were rearming, and they were not being peaceful.
Why America Entered World War II
The Allies dismissed the aggression of the Axis, which consequently led to more aggression because the Axis then believed they could ?walk on water? as they say for people who think they can do whatever they want and not get punished. The isolationist mood the US took in the 1930’s actually encouraged the aggressive countries. The appeasements Britain and France made to the Axis also encouraged the Axis.
Like in any war when you are not the aggressor, but the defender, to enter the war you have to be provoked. In this case, Italy, Germany and Japan provoked the United States. Those countries have so far provoked America directly, but mildly, and those countries also defied America’s interests and attacked America’s allies. The US was afraid that the situation with the Axis could escalate so far that the Axis could take over the world or a good portion of it.
By now, Japan had attacked Manchuria, China and many islands surrounding Japan. Italy had invaded Ethiopia, Albania and Northern Africa. Germany had control over the Rhineland, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria and lots of other territory in Europe. The Axis made an agreement ?to move simultaneously or to take turns,? on aggressive actions against other nations. The Axis’s overall plan now was to try to dominate the world. In 1936 the US learned of the Axis plans. The US of course wanted to solve this problem peacefully.
Japan became an aggressor because they needed space and raw materials, and they got that by taking places that had what they wanted. For many years before World War II Japan had been using imperialistic and militaristic ways to acquire land. The United States would not do anything to stop the Japanese, but condemn them and assault them verbally. When the Japanese attacked and killed many people on a US gunboat in Asia called the Panay, the US did nothing.
Japan attacked and occupied various islands in Pacific. The Japanese invaded the following places in the Pacific: Burma, Philippines, Midway, Quadalcanal, New Guinea, Tarawa, Kwajalein, the Mariana island of Manila and lastly, Okinawa. Before Pearl Harbor was attacked, America was very scared that Japan might attack the US because of all the neighboring islands in the Pacific that were assaulted. The US was right; Japan planned to attack America. On November 1, 1941 the Japanese leaders met to plan an attack on the US. They planned the battle to be in early December at Pearl Harbor, where the Pacific Fleet was. The Japanese were kind of shaky on going to war with America though. ?When can we go to war and win?? asked a leader named Kaya.
Another leader, Negano responded, ?The time for war will not come later.? And there it was the Japanese planned to attack Pearl Harbor.
Because of the Japanese aggression towards China, the US sided with China. The Japanese were very cruel to the people in the places the Japanese attacked. The Japanese brutality really upset the American public. The US then helped to supply China. Once again America sided with weak opposed to the strong.
Before America entered the war, they found out about Germany’s plans to invade South America in Brazil, Chile, and Peru. Germany also planned to attack the Panama Canal, which is very important for American sea-trade and for ships to get from coast to coast. If these plans were true, the US had to put an end to them then, so that Hitler did not attack America.
Germany was the most aggressive and powerful country among the Axis. Their blitzkrieg attacks and strong military helped to capture many countries. In 1935 Hitler proclaimed German rearmament, which was against the Versailles Treaty, and he also nullified the restrictive military clauses of the treaty. This caused other countries disturbance, but they were all busy with their own affairs?getting through the Great Depression. ?There are two worlds that stand opposed to each other,? Hitler claimed. He means that other forms of government and Nazism could not stand together, only one could stand, and that was the Nazi Party.
Congress passed many neutrality acts on trading with warring countries. But gradually as people began to follow FDR’s thinking of pro-war because of what the Axis has done, the neutrality acts were changed and repealed. After the fall of France to Germany, almost everyone in the United States swayed to pro-war from isolationism. FDR thought England would be next. If England went, the US would have no base to land at when attacking Germany. Therefore, America had to protect England. Britain in fact was almost defeated according to American ambassador to Britain, Joseph Kennedy. The blitzkrieg air attacks on British buildings were tremendous and the morale of Britain was even worse.
?Suppose my neighbor’s home catches on fire, and I have a length of a garden hose four or five hundred feet away. If he can take my garden hose and connect it up with his hydrant, I may help him put out the fire??
Roosevelt then went on to say in his press conference on December 17, 1940 that you ask for the garden hose back, not the cost of it. This explains Roosevelt’s reasoning in helping America’s friends.
Once most of the neutrality acts were repealed, the US was free to trade as much as they pleased with their Allies. The lend-lease act let the US loan money, food and weapons to the Allies. The US became the ?Arsenal of Democracy.? The US had to provide war products to the allied countries. ?If Great Britain goes down, the Axis Powers will control the continents of Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia and the seas,? Roosevelt said in his speech committing to the total US support of the Allies. The US ran into more problems when providing for the allies. The German and some Italian U-boats were attacking American ships bound for mainly England. On January 30, 1941 the Germans announced that any ships supplying the Allies would be torpedoed. So many American ships were sunk that America had to send vessels to escort the merchant ships. A vessel called the Robin Moor was shot by German U-boats in the Atlantic on May 21, 1941. Eleven US sailors died on the USS Kearney on October 17, 1941. 115 sailors were lost on the Reuben James. Because of all the attacks on US ships in the
Atlantic, Roosevelt ordered vessels to ?shoot-on-sight? on German ships or subs. This undeclared naval battle mainly between the US and Germany brought America very close to war. All the US needed to enter the war was an attack directly on American soil.
On December 7, 1941 at 7:55AM Pearl Harbor was bombed by Japan with 94 ships in the harbor. Pearl Harbor was on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu near the city of Honolulu. Almost 400 US aircrafts were lost, over 2,400 people were killed, and much of the US Pacific naval fleet was destroyed. Many battleships were lost along with a few aircraft carriers. The Japanese had declared war on the United States. The US then declared war on Japan, and then Italy and Germany of the Axis declared war on the US.
After Pearl harbor was bombed, the American people felt a lot of hatred towards the Japanese. Patriotic Americans were all ready to go to war.
Feelings towards War before Pearl Harbor
The general public of the US disliked the Axis even before Pearl Harbor was bombed. They did not like the Axis’s non-democratic governments of dictators. The public did not like the aggressiveness of the Axis because they were attacking America’s allies. Most Americans before the war began were interested in their own problems, namely the Great Depression. They thought that the war did not have that much to do with America. The majority of Americans wanted to make it through the Depression, not make lives worse for themselves by getting involved in a war on another continent. Fortunately entering the war brought the US out of the Depression.
Before Pearl Harbor was bombed President Roosevelt was trying to convince the country to become less isolationist. FDR did this by launching a propaganda campaign to persuade Americans to believe that issues in Europe affected Americans also. Roosevelt thought that war with the Axis was inevitable for America. He believed that worsening of the economy in Europe would affect the US after the war:
?No realistic American can expect from a dictator’s peace international generosity or return of true independence or world disarmament or freedom of expression or freedom of religion?or even good business,? Roosevelt said.
A dictator’s peace would bring no security for the US or any country and all the countries in the Axis were under a dictatorship. Roosevelt tried as hard as he could to convince people to go to war before Pearl Harbor. Prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, FDR got the country prepared for wartime again by building more equipment for the US and building up the military. The US was ready to go to war.
US Reactions towards Provocation
As the United States did not want to go to war, we had to respond to the provocation of the Axis somehow. The US cut off trade with Japan and tried to reach some sort of agreement but could not. America sent army boats to protect Americans in China. Numerous Americans thought that the Axis had to be stopped before they could ?engulf? the world.
FDR thought the only way to win peace was by fighting and winning the war. Roosevelt: ?Peace by fear has no higher or more enduring quality than peace by the sword.? FDR was right; appeasement did not keep the peace. Roosevelt thought it was time for war in October 1941 and repealed all the remaining neutrality acts leaving the US on the brink of war. FDR said, ??Only the thinnest of lines separated the United States from war with the Axis.? FDR thought that non-involvement in war would not guarantee peace, because America could be attacked. Roosevelt said in his ?Quarantine Speech? that countries threatening world peace should be put under a political ?Quarantine? so that the ?cancer? does not spread.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt seemed to have the right idea about entering World War II all along, but no one listened to him until going to war was absolutely necessary. The war could have been much shorter and less disastrous if the US came into the war directly at the beginning.
Conclusion, Thesis: The United States Was Justified in Entering World War II
If the United States did not go to war there could have been many times the damage . And to this day we still might not have recovered, or in fact we could all be under supreme rule of one dictator. The possibilities are endless of what the Axis could have done. Nazis could have enslaved the world. Fortunately the United States made the wise decision to enter World War II.
Between about 1938 and 1942 the United States put up with a lot of aggression from the Axis Powers to prevent further war and maintain peace. But as the Axis wanted to be world-dominators, there was no stopping them by peaceful means. As a result, the United States took actions after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and fought back to prevent the overbearing and aggressive countries from taking over the world. In conclusion, the United States was perfectly justified in entering World War II to save the world from these three different monsters of society.
Thesis and Dissertations