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"Roosevelt in 1940" Topic

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©1994-2019 Bill Armintrout
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Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian19 Jul 2018 4:47 a.m. PST

In 1940, France was crumbling, and Britain urged the USA to enter WWII. However, it was an election year, and President Roosevelt felt he did not have the support of the country to go to war.

Was Roosevelt correct to avoid war in 1940?

Wackmole9 Supporting Member of TMP19 Jul 2018 5:54 a.m. PST

Was he right to not go to war in 1940 after 20 years of starving the US Military of funds? Yes.

Was he a Egotistic politician who thought he was the only man for the job and needed a third term(four in the end). Yes. There by Breaking the long standing tradition of following Washington's lead to only serve 2 terms.

rustymusket Supporting Member of TMP19 Jul 2018 6:30 a.m. PST

I am not knowledgeable enough of the mood of the country to comment yes or no.

Ferd4523119 Jul 2018 6:36 a.m. PST

So how do you really feel about it Wackmole9? Don't be so shy. Just funning w/ you. FDR could not get a declaration of war because the Congress would not go along with it. Congress would not go along with it because the American public was not convinced Hitler was THEIR problem. If I was still teaching I'd frame it as a compare and contrast essay question between the FDR years and the current administration. Not being political here; but suggesting an interesting intellectual exercise. And as so many often say I shall now retire to get my popcorn and a drink. H

Ferd4523119 Jul 2018 6:40 a.m. PST

Just saw rustymusket's statement. When teaching the lead up to WWII in high school my classes had access to Gallop polling from 1939 to just short of Dec. 41 so I am confident that the data would support my assertion. H

28mm Fanatik19 Jul 2018 6:43 a.m. PST

Yes. Because isolationist sentiments were strong and without a Pearl Harbor, getting into foreign entanglements would be a hard sell. Also, the US military wasn't ready in 1940.

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP19 Jul 2018 7:15 a.m. PST

I think that Roosevelt sat at the confluent of two major factors.

The first being what I would call the Great European Civil War of 1550-1945 in which the kingdoms of Europe coalesced into nations that started to rub against each other like tectonic plates. Their colonial expansion began to drag in the rest of the world into a near constant string of conflicts of ever increasing scale.

The second being the unique position of the US to become a world player isolated from other world powers, vast in population and resources.

The key issue is the Great War, the biggest volcanic eruption until then. It had two main consequences :

The first being that it scared the bejezus out of almost all democratic politicians, they desperately tried to work out international structures to prevent it ever happening again. Disarmament, international cooperation, Wilsonism etc were all attempts to figure out a way to return to the relative peace and quiet established by the Congress of Vienna for nearly 60 years.

The second is that the war upset everything and resolved nothing. Four years of war destroyed established empires and created great insecurity. There was no turning back the clock to 1815, the power structures were radically different, politics was different and even without a Hitler the unresolved issues would still cause war sooner or later.

To try to go to war in 1940 was political suicide for almost all involved. If Brave Little Belgium was the figleaf of 1914 Plucky Poland just didn't cut it, most people hoped it simply would go away or resolve itself. They barely started to get worried when Britain suffered under the Blitz.

I think the lack of support by the US people has always been seriously overstated. Most people may have been resistant to war because it's a fundamental trait, I don't think it would ever have been a factor to stop a US intervention at any point. You would need a decent reason to get certain things done and then the Japanese gave Roosevelt carte blanche to act as desired for the next 2-3 years.

Depending on how the US is doing they can extend it until either Germany or Japan is defeated, after that the will to win starts to fade and with boys away from home up to four years was starting to weigh on people. If Germany had been crushed they would not hold it against Roosevelt (or Truman) to broker a peace with Japan if only to avoid the rumors that it would be many times worse than invading Germany.

The US simply didn't have the means to go to war in 1940. They could only provide a token contribution at best.

But another misunderstood factor is the gradual rearmament that had started in 1933 and the careful planning that was made from 1917 onward. France, Britain and the US did start to rearm as soon as Germany was reasserting itself, all this according to plans made in 1918, technology had changed drastically since then. France paid the price because it was defeated before it could adapt. The USSR paid a heavy price, but was not defeated and adapted. Britain had a big moat to keep out the nasty people and could adapt.

It is easy to understate the amount of development the US went through between 1916 and 1941. Back then they could mobilize some impressive numbers but US was barely able to equip them and France and England had to provide rifles, machineguns, artillery and planes. By 1940 industry was so much more capable and fully prepared to switch to wartime production at the snap of a finger. All they needed was the right incentive and the most devastatingly powerful industrial system in history was ready to roll.

In 1940, the US is a military lightweight. By 1942 the US can start to operate on a large scale and play a significant contribution to the war effort. By 1944 it's a wrecking ball in a china shop.

Timing was on Roosevelt's side. He could bank on growing sympathy for the British after the Blitz, he knew that there would be a Casus Belli sooner or later and the Japanese gave him one on a silver platter. His decision to throw the full weight of the US completely tips the balance in favour of the Allies.

CorroPredo19 Jul 2018 7:35 a.m. PST

+1 Wackmole9.

Pan Marek Supporting Member of TMP19 Jul 2018 8:06 a.m. PST

Wackmole- You get the prize for adding unsolicited content.

Legion 419 Jul 2018 8:10 a.m. PST

Remember how reluctant and isolationistic the US was in WWI, too. I took a sales job by Wilson and some on his staff to get the US to want to get involved in a war in Europe.

But some things like German unrestricted submarine warfare, the Zimmer telegram, etc. helped …

Just like with WWII. Pearl Harbor and Hitler declaring war on the USA after Pearl was attacked. Helped with the USA once again going to a war overseas.

Fred Cartwright19 Jul 2018 8:11 a.m. PST

Timing was on Roosevelt's side. He could bank on growing sympathy for the British after the Blitz, he knew that there would be a Casus Belli sooner or later and the Japanese gave him one on a silver platter.

Indeed he did know, because he was doing all he could to engineer it. Telling the Japanese they couldn't do what they wanted in their own back yard, when the US had spent the 20's sowing up South America so the Wall Street boys could make their profits in peace was never going to go down well. Add to that imposing sanctions on Japan while ignoring what was being done in Africa by the Italians, French and Spanish must have been pretty galling too. Finally cancelling the export license for oil that the Japanese had paid for then freezing all their assets in the US so they couldn't get their money back, was the final straw. Pearl Harbour might have been a gift for Roosevelt, but he had been working hard to get.

donlowry19 Jul 2018 8:25 a.m. PST

in those days, only Congress had the right to get us into a war -- unlike today.

skipper John Supporting Member of TMP19 Jul 2018 8:32 a.m. PST

Idiot. And several the other ones too. How does any president justify going against the wishes of the people… that elected them? Power just plain corrupts, no doubt.

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP19 Jul 2018 8:39 a.m. PST

Ah for the simpler days of yesteryear when Presidents did not seek out foreign wars in exotic lands to get involved in.
WWII was the last war where Congress actually declared war. I guess it's just too much trouble to seek such a declaration before getting involved.

lloydthegamer Supporting Member of TMP19 Jul 2018 9:11 a.m. PST

-1 to wackamole, +1 to Skipper John.

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP19 Jul 2018 9:28 a.m. PST

The isolationists are like the Vietnam protestors, they are in every history book, they are mentioned at every step and they feature in every documentary and you'd think they would have been everywhere, but when you look up the data the number of cases of GI's being picketed by more than one or two local protestors are in the very low digits. From what I have seen the opposition marches in every city always involve the exact same bit of footage.

And while there was quite a vocal opposition, many faded away like the German-American bund and those German-Americans who where isolationists mostly because "Hitler seemed such a decent man, pulling Germany out of the bad times." Once war did break out only a handful kept it up. As for opposition, remember that some polls involved questions like "Would you approve Roosevelt declaring war on Germany ?" Leading question much ?

As for actually being outraged Roosevelt had the gall to start a war do check a list of all the wars the US started before him with all the "due cause" they could invoke. If you have a problem with going to war with Germany you'll only have love for the Spanish American war right ?

I think the opposition was mostly habitual, most people didn't associate the many adventures the US had gone on in the last few decades and did not associate them with actual war. The Great War was indeed something awful, but given the relatively low US casualties it was mostly a reflexive opposition rather than one based on actual experience. "Our boys should not get involved in such slaughter" type thinking.

28mm Fanatik19 Jul 2018 11:00 a.m. PST

Roosevelt faced considerable congressional opposition. Isolationism was much stronger back then than it is now. People just don't care nowadays if it doesn't affect their pocket books and Congress today is little more than a rubber-stamp body of yes men and women.

Upon taking office, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt tended to see a necessity for the United States to participate more actively in international affairs, but his ability to apply his personal outlook to foreign policy was limited by the strength of isolationist sentiment in the U.S. Congress. In 1933, President Roosevelt proposed a Congressional measure that would have granted him the right to consult with other nations to place pressure on aggressors in international conflicts. The bill ran into strong opposition from the leading isolationists in Congress, including progressive politicians such as Senators Hiram Johnson of California, William Borah of Idaho, and Robert La Follette of Wisconsin. In 1935, controversy over U.S. participation in the World Court elicited similar opposition. As tensions rose in Europe over Nazi Germany's aggressive maneuvers, Congress pushed through a series of Neutrality Acts, which served to prevent American ships and citizens from becoming entangled in outside conflicts. Roosevelt lamented the restrictive nature of the acts, but because he still required Congressional support for his domestic New Deal policies, he reluctantly acquiesced.

The isolationists were a diverse group, including progressives and conservatives, business owners and peace activists, but because they faced no consistent, organized opposition from internationalists, their ideology triumphed time and again. Roosevelt appeared to accept the strength of the isolationist elements in Congress until 1937. In that year, as the situation in Europe continued to grow worse and the Second Sino-Japanese War began in Asia, the President gave a speech in which he likened international aggression to a disease that other nations must work to "quarantine." At that time, however, Americans were still not prepared to risk their lives and livelihoods for peace abroad. Even the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939 did not suddenly diffuse popular desire to avoid international entanglements. Instead, public opinion shifted from favoring complete neutrality to supporting limited U.S. aid to the Allies short of actual intervention in the war. The surprise Japanese attack on the U.S. Navy at Pearl Harbor in December of 1941 served to convince the majority of Americans that the United States should enter the war on the side of the Allies.

From the official history of the US State Dept.: link

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP19 Jul 2018 11:36 a.m. PST

After Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, isolationism doesn't seem like such a bad thing now.
And I've left out a lot.

rmaker19 Jul 2018 11:54 a.m. PST

Wackamole, blaming FDR for 20 years of inadequate funding is ridiculous. First, he'd been President only since 1933. Second both he and Calvin Coolidge had asked for much greater military spending than Congress was willing to authorize. I'll allow that Herbert Hoover was part of the problem. Harding, during his short tenure, was busy overseeing the demobilization from WW1.

As to the isolationists, remember that they were much stronger in the Democratic Party (and it's hangers on like the Progressives) than among the Republicans. Never mind the "Martin, Barton, and Fish" speech, which wasn't about isolationism, but social policy anyway. The real problems were the same people (and their younger allies) who had voted against war in 1917 – almost all of them Democrats, Progressives, and Socialists.

Pan Marek Supporting Member of TMP19 Jul 2018 12:00 p.m. PST

Fanatik- +1

Ed Mohrmann Supporting Member of TMP19 Jul 2018 12:22 p.m. PST

To Fred Cartwright's point, I'd encourage all to read
_Day of Deception_, which (to me) fairly conclusively
demonstrates that the administration (FDR's) did their
best to engineer a 'first shot fired by Japan' in
the Pacific.

Read the book, ESPECIALLY THE FOOTNOTES. Stark and
Marshall are the folks at the feet of whom the author
lays most of the blame for PH, and that because the
President did not want the effect of the surprise lost.

But Short and Kimmel got the axe anyway.

Bill N19 Jul 2018 12:59 p.m. PST

In 1940 the U.S. Army was not ready for war. The U.S. Army Air Corps wasn't ready. U.S. industry wasn't ready and large portions of the American public wasn't ready. Compare the Lend Lease vote where roughly 60% of the House and Senate were willing to agree (with Democrats being more willing to vote yes while Republicans were more split) with the Declaration of War on Japan where there was almost no opposition.

Maybe the U.S. Navy was close, but even here the delay made a difference. In 1941 the North Carolina class battleships join the fleet. Before those all the battleships were WW1 era. The U.S. ordered the first Essex class carriers in 1940.

Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian19 Jul 2018 1:33 p.m. PST

If you deliberately 'underfund' the military, then you make isolationism the only option.

If you fully fund the military, then the politicians will be tempted to actually 'use' the military.

Legion 419 Jul 2018 3:10 p.m. PST

"Pray for Peace, but Prepare for War".

If you underfund the military then there's a pretty good chance you won't be ready for war. And the learning curve is steep …

Korvessa19 Jul 2018 4:20 p.m. PST

Sometimes I wonder if Star Trek's prime directive wouldn't be such a bad thing

Personal logo ochoin Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member19 Jul 2018 9:18 p.m. PST

If you fully fund the military, then the politicians will be tempted to actually 'use' the military.

Bill, you never wrote wiser words.

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP19 Jul 2018 11:43 p.m. PST

To blame a politician for worrying about possible reelection is like blaming the bomb squad guy who cut the wrong wire when defusing a bomb that he should not have made defusing a bomb part of his task profile.

Elections is the only method a politician can actually exercise their job, but that they should never be concerned with it is a rather baffling concept.

One might put forward that the system of election may be skewed in some way, but if the method is the problem change the method, don't ask for people not to do certain things, though important to them because you think it is a bad thing in your imaginary purity game.

donlowry20 Jul 2018 8:30 a.m. PST

It was Britain and France that issued the guarantee to Poland, not the U.S.

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP20 Jul 2018 9:55 a.m. PST

I'm always amused by the folks who bemoan how unprepared the US was for WWII. Suppose we had spent a pile more money between the wars, what possible use would swarms of M2 combat cars and P-36 fighters been come 1940? America was the huge industrial power it was because it had NOT spent large sums on the military. Since we were not facing any real threat of a surprise invasion, our military policy was actually very sensible.

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP20 Jul 2018 12:19 p.m. PST

A declaration of war implies an ambassadorial relationship in place to create a formal recipient of said declaration. Thus, the US Congress could vote to "declare war" on Japan and Germany because there was an ambassador present to deliver or receive said declaration that a state of war existed. However, when there is no such ambassadorial relationship, Congress does not vote to "declare war" but rather to authorize military action, as there is no process for presenting said declaration. Thus, Congress voted to "declare war" on Britain in 1812, with whom the US shared ambassadors, but not on the Barbary Coast in either 1801 or 1815, with whom we did not. Similarly, no declaration could be delivered in Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Iraq, Somalia, or Afghanistan as no ambassadorial relationship was in place with the opposition at the time (all diplomats from both sides had been withdrawn in the case of Iraq). If we were to establish a formal state of war with a recognized ambassadorial nation, a declaration is what would be voted on. If we're just killing terrorist groups and quasi-governments or governments which we do not formally recognize, an authorization of force is voted on for extended military action. (Long ago, in the Whiskey Rebellion, Congress recognized Executive authority for limited emergency military action absent a formal vote, later codified by law. Also, in that incident, and others, Congress eventually did vote "authorizations" to use military force. So at least at the time the founding Congress understood that a "declaration of war" was a formal process, and "authorization" filled the need in other situations, which understanding is in operation today.)

Bill N20 Jul 2018 2:09 p.m. PST

I'm always amused by the folks who bemoan how unprepared the US was for WWII. Suppose we had spent a pile more money between the wars, what possible use would swarms of M2 combat cars and P-36 fighters been come 1940?

Legitimate points Scott. That it proved to be the right course of action when the U.S. finally did get into the war does not take away from the equally valid point that it left the U.S. unprepared to enter the war earlier.

Legion 420 Jul 2018 2:29 p.m. PST

Just some thoughts, when our Founding Fathers believed that declaring war was a "formal process". I.e. let your enemy know you're coming. It took weeks to cross the Atlantic Ocean. E.g. the War of 1812 was over by the time the word got back to the US and UK forces engaged in the conflict. E.g. The Battle of New Orleans …

Of course Tactical Surprise IMO is more important than Strategical Surprise. But situations vary … E.g. the first airstrikes in GW I. They may know you are coming but can do little effectively to stop it …

Mark 120 Jul 2018 3:06 p.m. PST

There is no necessary requirement for an ambassadorial relationship. One might suggest there is an implication, but that is debatable.

The US Constitution, in Article One, Section 8, says that the Congress shall have the power to declare war. It does not define what a declaration of war is or must be. It only empowers the Congress, and only the Congress, to do so.

The last time the US Congress actually passed a declaration of war was in 1942, against some of the lesser Axis states (declarations of war had already been passed against Japan, Germany and Italy).

Since then, every major commitment of US forces to prolonged military campaigns has been done under Congressional authorizations that did not include the term "Declaration of War". So call them authorizations if you prefer. The difference is trivial -- the Congress has the authority, and exercises that authority the way it sees fit.

In 1973 the Congress passed the War Powers Act (Public Law 93-194), after Nixon continued military action in Vietnam AFTER the Congressional Resolution that had authorized it had been repealed. This provides in statute the limitations and requirements on the President, as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, for using military force when there is no specific authorization from the Congress.

Since passage of the War Powers Act several presidents have asserted that they had the authority to engage in military actions without complying with it's terms. But they all have (with only one exception in a limited action) fully complied with the requirements and limitations of the War Powers Act, or sought and obtained specific authorizations from the Congress for any prolonged military actions they ordered that went beyond the limitations of the War Power Act. Consequently the War Powers Act has never been tested in the courts.

(aka: Mk 1)

Aethelflaeda was framed20 Jul 2018 5:56 p.m. PST

I think all the powers, were not ready for war in 39, much less 1940. It can be argued that Chamberlin, by delaying the onset of war by getting "peace in our time" saved the British from a defeat in the Battle of Britain after the fall of France. Those crucial months gave the RAF time to field spitfires with the better cannon. We all know how close that one was. Had even a squadron or two not been available the war might well have been lost

I think Roosevelt got it right too. The US had nothing to contribute that could bring victory at that point, but a premature bloody nose from the Axis could have sealed US isolationism.

Think what you like of Roosevelt's "socialism" but he was the right American leader for the moment for fighting the axis with unity and diplomatic pragmatism.

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP20 Jul 2018 10:49 p.m. PST

Since then, every major commitment of US forces to prolonged military campaigns has been done under Congressional authorizations that did not include the term "Declaration of War". So call them authorizations if you prefer. The difference is trivial -- the Congress has the authority, and exercises that authority the way it sees fit.

Exactly! The understanding of the time was not that the Congress could only literally use the phrase "declare war" in voting for or against extended military action, but that only Congress had the power to authorize the act of going to war. Notably, the same Consitution makes the President the Commander-in-Chief of the military (including Navy and militia), but also requires the President to take an oath the "defend" the Constitution and thus the lives, Liberty, and property of the citizens of the United States, as well as protect its system of government. This oath by implication (and intent) means that the President is to use the powers and authority vested in him by the Constution to fulfill this oath; which means that his role as head of the military (and his authority of it) is one of the methods and abilities he is expected to use in that defense. I.e. It is not merely a metaphorical defense or a legal defense but indeed extends to a military defense-- use of force-- which he, and he alone, is not only authorized to do, but also required to do. Thus, military actions and violence may be a necessary action to take in this defense, whether or not any authorization from Congress to engage in war exists. In other words, if a hostile nation or other group or person is threatening the US and the Constitution, then military action against that threat is already Constitutional as an act of the President's authority and duty of defense. But the power to declare war and fund war are within the authority of Congress so that an obvious limit is placed on the President, that he can't simply go haring off shooting at another nation without it posing a true and imminent threat, unless Congress votes for him to do so.
Think of it as rules of engagement for the President; if someone is pointing a gun at the US, or shooting the same, the President may take military action against that threat. If someone is merely vehemently disagreeing with the US or even taking policy actions (as unfair trade, etc.) which we don't like, that's not an imminent threat, and only Congress can authorize taking the dispute into warfare.

In the case of Japan, it's arguable that Roosevelt didn't have to get Congressional approval to act to defend the US against Japanese expansion into US territory, but he certainly did have to get it to carry the war to Japanese-held areas. And, since Germany had not attacked the US, and was not a clear imminent threat, but merely an ally of Japan, military action against it had to have a Congressional vote. Roosevelt wisely killed two birds with one stone, rather than wait for Germany to kick the dog too.

In any case, the exact words are irrelevant to the power held; they only pertain to what details the voted action entails. Either way, it's still a vote for or against war.

Dynaman878921 Jul 2018 10:51 a.m. PST

M2 combat Cars and Lousy fighters would not help but an expanded NCO and officer corps would have been a massive help. It is amazing the US was able to gear up for war as quickly and well as it did.

Bunkermeister Supporting Member of TMP21 Jul 2018 11:25 a.m. PST

The problem is that FDR broke tradition and ran for a third term. He should not have done that, it was his egotism that caused him to do that. Just as those who spend a lifetime in Congress thinking they are the best one for the country.

While some of you state that isolationism was not that strong, there were even fewer out encouraging the US to take up arms against Germany and Japan.

Of course the Isolationists disappeared once Pearl Harbor was attacked, they were not anti-American, they were opposed to the Americans getting involved in an unnecessary war. Once attacked, war is the answer.

Mike Bunkermeister Creek
Bunker Talk blog

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP23 Jul 2018 4:26 a.m. PST

"M2 combat Cars and Lousy fighters would not help but an expanded NCO and officer corps would have been a massive help. It is amazing the US was able to gear up for war as quickly and well as it did."

Not that amazing. We did the same thing in WWI. We did it even quicker and better in WWII.

Monophagos Inactive Member23 Jul 2018 8:12 a.m. PST

He wanted to see Britain sufficiently weakened and impoverished to enable the USA to take over world hegemony after the war. Very clever man. Not as nice as people think though.

Legion 423 Jul 2018 4:05 p.m. PST

Sounds a little tinfoilhat … to me … evil grin

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