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"Roosevelt was right in 1940!" Topic


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Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian10 Jun 2019 2:02 p.m. PST

You were asked – TMP link

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?

81% said "Roosevelt was right to avoid war in 1940"

10% said "Roosevelt was wrong to avoid war in 1940"

Ed Mohrmann Supporting Member of TMP10 Jun 2019 3:11 p.m. PST

Also the US was pitifully prepared in late 1941, so
imagine how much more ill-prepared we were in Spring,
1940 !

Mark 110 Jun 2019 3:42 p.m. PST

I have often seen those who empathize with the plight of Poland criticize the French and British for taking such paltry steps against the Germans in September 1939.

They had a treaty obligation to help Poland. So what did they do? They declared war against the Germans. But then they nary lifted a finger to help the poor Poles in their hour of need.

Now transport forward 9 months. Instead of September 1939, we are in May or June of 1940. Now the French are in their hour of need.

So let's take the hypothetical. The US declares war on Germany. And then what? We lift nary a finger, and the French sink into defeat.

Why? Why no mighty army sent immediately to France? After all, it only takes a week to cross the Atlantic, including port time on both sides.

But in May of 1940 the US had an army that was smaller than Poland's army in 1939. And had less modern equipment. And we all know how well the Poles managed…

The US Army in 1940 had all of nine infantry divisions. Of these, only three were "war ready", with a reasonably full compliment of regular service soldiers. That's three, as in 3, as in ONLY THREE! The other six were at cadre strength (about 3,000 regulars), and needed to be filled out by draft or nationalization of National Guard formations. The US Army also had one (as in 1) cavalry division (notably smaller than an infantry division, at about 4,000 troopers). And one mechanized brigade of about 3,000 troops to match up against the Panzer divsions. Oh, and the US had produced, by that point, about 75 of those war-winning M2 Medium Tanks (to which the French purchasing commission, in their hour of need, had said "Really? Well, eh, thanks, but … no").

The German army at this time had 157 divisions, of which 134 were used in the French campaign.

So the US declares war against Germany and does exactly what?

Oh, and two months later, when the British are in their own hour of need, what will be the American response? Here we are in August or September of 1940, with the US having declared war against the Germans. Yet what more could we have done than what we were already doing? Almost nothing.

Nope, the US was hopelessly unprepared for war on the scale that erupted in Europe in 1939/40. But if we declared war, then at least we could have been blamed for the next 75 years for not having come to France's aid.

(Of course we can be blamed in any scenario. No burden of evidence is required to play the blame game. Just saying that a declaration of war would have made very little difference in what actually happened, other than giving the Germans a free hand to target US shipping at a time when they hadn't yet deployed many U-boats.)

-Mark
(aka: Mk 1)

Korvessa10 Jun 2019 3:45 p.m. PST

Well said.

Aethelflaeda was framed10 Jun 2019 5:01 p.m. PST

The Polish army really wasn't terribly small in 38-39. It was much bigger than the brits, iirc, and considered one of the better in Europe, if not quite a major power. We see how it as turned out in hindsight but the conventional wisdom of the day didn't think they could be so easily defeated any more than France.

Personal logo Old Contemptible Supporting Member of TMP10 Jun 2019 9:09 p.m. PST

This was an obvious no brainer. If there ever was one.

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP11 Jun 2019 1:26 a.m. PST

The Polish army was quite effective chewing up Czechoslovakia in 1938.

Marc33594 Supporting Member of TMP11 Jun 2019 7:30 a.m. PST

The other issue was that the US still had a very strong isolationist streak in 1940. Fast forward to December of 1941 and we were attacked, made a huge difference in public perception and support.

Mark 111 Jun 2019 11:51 a.m. PST

The other issue was that the US still had a very strong isolationist streak in 1940.

True, that!

It's not easy to get consensus among Americans about what is right for the country, or what threatens the country. Wasn't any easier then.

To his credit, for as clearly as Roosevelt saw the threats (and, from the joint planning work he demanded of the Departments of War and Navy it is very clear that he saw the threats), he also worked within the limits on his own power. In 1940 he had the power to influence, but not to control, the American reaction to war.

Pearl Harbor did unite the country to an unprecedented degree. Not that he would not / could not have gotten a declaration of war by mid-1941 in any case, but it would have been harder to do, and would have faced substantially more domestic criticism and resistance to the many initiatives that were to follow.

-Mark
(aka: Mk 1)

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