World War II: Arsenal of Democracy


Figure 1.--The Japanese seizure of Southeast Asia after Pearl Harbor cut off America from its principal suppliers of natuarl rubber. As a stop-gap measure, old tires were collected around the country. Boy Scouts in the small town of Stevens Point, Wisconsin organized this collection drive in June 1942. Other Scouts throughout the country were doing the same. Nationwide the Scouts collected 54,000 tons of rubber. Wide World

President Roosevelt first used the term "Arsenal of Denocracy" on December 29, 1940 in one of his Fireside Chats, radio boradcasts, to the American people. He expalined the importance of supplying the people of Europe, at the time primarily Britain with the "implements of war". He said that the United States "must be the great arsenal of democracy". The very day he spoke, a Luftwaffe raid on London severly damaged famous buildings and churches in the city center and engulfed St. Paul's Cathedral in flames. [Gilbert, p. 356.] Hitler feared America more than any other country, but was convinced that Britain could be defeated before America could be mobilized or American industry could be effevtiverly harnassed for the war effort. Neither the NAZIs or the Japanese had any idea just how effectibely American production could be converted to war production. Air Marshall Goering sneared. "The Americans only know how to make razor blades." Four years later with the Luftwaffe in tatters, Goering said he knew that the War was lost when American P-51 Mustangs appeared over Berlin escoring waves of bombers. The record of American war production is staggering and in large measure determined the outcome of the War.

Inter-war Years

The inter-ware era was a time of disarmament in most countries. Military budgets were pared back in Britain, france, and America. This was not the case in Japan. After Hitler seized power in 1933, he ordered a major rearamanent program in violation of the Versailles Peace Treaty. The democracies did not respond. The public after World War I was apauled by war and desired to avoid another war. As a result, militry expenditures were not poltically popular. The democracies by the 1930s were more concerned with domestic issues--especially efforts to fight the depression. The German rearament program, especially the Luftwaffe, had by 1938 had given NAZI Germany a significant militay advantage in Europe. The same was occuring in the Pacific with the Japanese. There were warnings about German rearmament. Churchill in particular spoke out on the subject. Hitler demonstrated the force of the Luftwaffe in Spain beginning in 1936. Hitler beginning in 1938 began to use his military advantage. He seized Austria in the Anschluss (March 1938) and then turned toward Czecheslovakia. The Munich Conference (October 1938) was a shock to the democracies. The character of the enemy they faced was made manifest in Kristallnacht. The shocked democracies began a rearmament program. This included America, although there was still considerable public opposition to arms spending in the United States. Germany's seizure of the rest of Czecheslovakia (March 1939) in violation of the Munich Agreeement made in obvious as hurchill had warned that appeasement would not work.

War in Europe

Hitler concluded that Munich had been a mistake. He was not to be denied his war. Germany invaded Poland September 1, 1939. The results of the German rearmament program were immediately apparent as Poland was quickly defeated. Next Hitler turned west. The allies (Britain and France) were rearming assisted by the Roosevelt Administration in America. The question became whether the democracies could rearm fast enough to close the German advantge, epecially the inballance in airplanes, before Hitler struck in the West. The German Western Offensive (May 1940) shocked the world. France fell within weeks and many thought that Britain would oon follow. President Roosevelt had to decide if scarce arms needed by the American military should be sent to Britain. They were and made a crucial difference in Britain's fight for survival. President Roosevelt first used the term "Arsenal of Denocracy" on December 29, 1940 in one of his Fireside Chats, radio boradcasts, to the American people. He expalined the importance of supplying the people of Europe, at the time primarily Britain with the "implements of war". He said that the United States "must be the great arsenal of democracy". The very day he spoke, a Luftwaffe raid on London severly damaged famous buildings and churches in the city center and engulfed St. Paul's Cathedral in flames. [Gilbert, p. 356.] Hitler feared America more than any other country, but was convinced that Britain could be defeated before America could be mobilized or American industry could be effevtiverly harnassed for the war effort.

America at War

America had been expanding its military production beginning in the late 1930s. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought America into the War. The Roosevelt Administrtion organized the most expansive armaments program ever conducted in world history. The output American factiries mot only armed the American military, but its allies as well. The quantity and quality of those arms astonished America's enemies ans allies alike. Neither the NAZIs or the Japanese had any idea just how effectibely American production could be converted to war production. Air Marshall Goering sneared. "The Americans only know how to make razor blades." Four years later with the Luftwaffe in tatters, Goering said he knew that the War was lost when American P-51 Mustangs appeared over Berlin escoring waves of bombers. The record of American war production is staggering and in large measure determined the outcome of the War.

Sources

Freidel, Frank. Franklin D. Roosevelt: Rendezuous with Destiny (Little Brown: Boston, 1990), 710p.

Gilbert, Matin.

Kimball, Warren F., ed. Churchill and Roosevelt: The Complete Correspondence 3 vols. ( Princeton University Press, 1984). This is a remarable collection of Roosevelt and Churchill's communications. Kimball has written excellent books on both Lend-Lease Act and on the Morgenthau Plan for occupied Germany. The collection came from presidential, State Department, prime-ministerial, Foreign Office files, and even German intercepts of previously unpublished transatlantic telephone conversations.

Sawyer, L.A. and W.H. Mitchell. The Liberty Ships (Lloyd's of London Press, 1985).

Schlesinger, Arthur Jr. "The Supreme Partnership," The Atlantic Monthly (October 1984).

Schama, Simon. A History of Britain.

Sherwood, Robert E. Roosevelt and Hopkins (1948).

Trapani, Carol, "Letters cemented partnership," Poughkeepsie Journal (December 8, 2001).






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Created: January 1, 2003
Last updated: May 27, 2003