Nye Commission (1936) which asserted that the US had become involved in the First World War
as a result of the machinations of bankers and munitions makers. In 1936, it forbade loans to belligerents.
In 1937, the first two laws were made permanent and Congress forbade U citizens to travel on
ships owned or operated by belligerents. It gave the President the power for two years to list which
commodities that belligerents would have too pay for in cash and carry in their own ships. Clearly, Congress and
the American people did not want to get involved in a war.
In 1937, however, the Japanese began a full scale invasion of China. In 1938, Japan proclaimed
a "New Order in East Asia." that same year, the Germans absorbed Austria, claiming that the people there,
German speakers, wanted to be part of greater Germany, the Third Reich. Hitler began threatening Czechoslovakia,
claiming that the German minority in the Sudetenland region. The region had been part of the German Confederation
in the 19th century but had been given to Czechoslovakia in 1919 because of the German defeat. Hitler had
subsidized a Nazi Party there which demanded annexation to Germany. At the Munich Conference, Germany, Italy, England, and France
agreed that Hitler could annex the Sudetenland; in return, Hitler promised not to make any more
territorial demands in Europe. Excluded from the conference, at Mussolini's suggestion, were Czechoslovakia
and the Soviet Union. In March, 1939 Hitler took the rest of Czechoslovakia and began threatening Poland. France
and England guaranteed the territorial integrity of Poland. Meanwhile, Italy invaded Albania.
FDR called for modest rearmament. It was clear to him that the world had become too dangerous for the US to continue have a
small, ill-equipped military. The USSR and Germany signed a non-aggression agreement
the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, 1939 allowing both top annex territory in eastern Europe and the Soviets
a free hand in its war against Finland. Not free of the fear of Soviet resistance, Germany invaded Poland
on September 1, 1939. France and England declared war on Germany but logistical factors made it nigh
impossible to aid Poland. Some called the lull a "phony war." The US reaction in November, 1939, was to declare an arms embargo
and require that all trade be on a cash and carry basis. It still believed the Nye Commission.
The European war got worse. Germany, having taken Poland and other eastern European territory, turned westward
and invaded Denmark, Norway, and the Low Countries. Germany then invaded France in June. The French put up a
fierce resistance and many died; the French had lost a generation of men defending Paris in
the First World War; seeing that the Germans could and would destroy Paris and that France was beaten, they surrendered.
People in the US were split about what the nation should do. Isolationists argued that what
the Europeans did was not a US affair. Reformers were convinced that participation in a war would end the New Deal.
Anglophobes wanted to see England get its comeuppance. But other Americans, including Roosevelt, were
not neutral. FDR wanted to help Great Britain and, at first, thought he could without getting
the US involved in the war. As events occurred, his opinion changed to thinking he might be able to keep
the country out. Finally, he concluded that it was a matter of time. And Congress had changed its opinion, for it passed
a one billion dollar defense appropriation bill in May, 1940. In September, the US loaned destroyers to Great Britain in
return for bases in the Caribbean. The Selective Service Act, a peacetime draft, was passed that year.
In the 1940 presidential election FDR and his Republican opponent, Wendell Wilkie, favored aiding Great Britain although both said
they wanted to keep US men out of the war. The US was too close to the British to allow the Germans
to conquer them.
After FDR's election to a third term, US aid to Britain increased.
In March, 1941, the Lend Lease Act, funded at $50 billion gave the President the right to aid any
nation fighting the Axis powers. Most, $31 billion, went to Great Britain. By the spring, US and British officers were
discussing common strategy. In August, FDR and Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, met an
issued the Atlantic Charter, a statement of war aims. By the summer of 1941, the US was in an undeclared
naval war with Germany and protecting convoys as far as Iceland (which the Us declared part of
the Western Hemisphere!). By September, US naval commanders were given orders to shoot German
subs on sight. The US was taking side.
German troops invaded Rumania in October, 1940, Yugoslavia in April, 1941, and the Soviet
Union in June, 1941. The Soviet Union was the only nation fighting the Axis on land in Europe. The
US started giving aid to the USSR.
War came not because of Germany but because of Japan. In 1939, the Japanese gave the required six months
notice that they were abrogating the 1911 commercial treaty with the US. The US responded in July, 1940, by prohibiting the export
of some oil and of scrap metal, an effort to cut off supplies to the Japanese war machine. Japanese troops
occupied northern Indo-China and signed the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy. While negotiating with the US, Japan
sent its troops into southern Indo-China and then into Malaya and the Dutch East Indies. (For an account
of a Japanese prisoner of war camp on Java, see Bantjeuj).
FDR froze Japanese funds in the US. In August, Prince Konoye suggested a Pacific conference to settle the
differences between the US and Japan. FDR, believing that Japan was simply buying time while its
armies conquered, refused unless their was some agreement on basic issue, something the Japanese would
not do. In October, Konoye's government fell and the militarist, General Hideki Tojo, took power and gave the go-ahead for
the attack on the US Pacific fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Meanwhile, Japanese diplomats
were ordered to continue discussions with Washington while the secret battle plans went forth. On December 7, 1941
the Japanese military destroyed much of the American Pacific fleet.
On December 8, 1941, the US declared war on Japan; on December 11, Germany and Italy
declared war on the US which then reciprocated.