World War II: Emergency Aid to Britain--Controversy

Secretary of War Harry Woodring
Figure 1.--Here Secretary of War Harry Woodring with his family is visiting the White House (probanly May 1940). The Secrtary ad his wife Helen are pictured with their three children (Melissa, Cooper, and Marcus). Washington is very hot in the summer which is why they are weaing white. Notice how Meissa looks to be wearing a Shirley Temple outfit. The Isolationists were primarily Republicans, but there were Democrats as well. Secretary Woodring believed strongly in the need to strengthen the U.S. Army. He thus after Dunkirk opposed emergency arms shipments to Britain. Unlike Gen. Marshall, he made his criticism of the President's plan public. Shortly after this photograph was taken, President Roosevelt asked him to resign.

President Roosevelt's decesion within this context was a an act of some political bravery. Roosevelt was not expected to run again because of the tradition against a third term. Elenaor was preparing for life afer the White House. The Fall of France changed this. The President decided to run again, although he did not announce his decesion. He did set about promoting a draft Roosevelt movement within the Democratic Party. Roosevelt's decesion to id Britain was made not only opposition from the U.S. Army, but in the face of the powerful Isolationist Movement that was organzing to ensure that he would not be reelected should he decide to fun again. President Roosevelt's action to help reequip Britain in its time of maximum peril was thus at the time controversial. The U.S. Army was still very small and even so poorly equipped. Shipping arms to Britain meant it would be longer before the Army could be properly equipped and this would be even more of a problem when the United States began to significantly expand the Army. There were voices boh within and without the Administration who argued against the shipments. Few fully understood what fighting the War would be like without the British. General Marshall opposed the shipments and made this plain to the President. His priority was equipping the U.S. Army. He did not, however, made his objections public. The Isolationists were primarily Republicans, but there were Democrats as well. Secretary of War Harry Woodring strenuosly opposed the shipments and did made his opposition public. Woodring had served as a second lieutenant in the Tank Corps during World War I (1917-18). He entered politics and was elected Kansas governor (1931), a notable achievement in a largely Republican state. politican who had The President appointed Woodring Assistant Secretary of War (1933). He focused on procurement matters which is one reason he opposed shipping military equipment still in short supply overseas. The President turned to his to be the Secretary of War (1936). He coninued the policies of his predecessor to increase the size of the Regular Army, National Guard, and Reserve Corps. He oversaw a revision of mobilization plans to bring personnel and procurement into balance and stressed the need to perfect the initial (peacetime) protective force. He was, however, a non-interventionist, Isolationism and non-interventionist feeling was especially pronounced in the Mid-West. The President was determined to aid Britain and asked Woodring to resign (1940). Disagreeing with the Presidentwas not the issue, it was doing so publicly. And it provided valuable fodder to the Isolationists at a very critical point. The Isolationists after Dunkirk were spreading rumors that Britain was planning to sue for peace just like France. The President's detractors charged that if the arms crossed the Atlantic they would soon fall into the hands of the Nazis. [Peters] Churchill wrote after the War, "All this reads easy now, but at the time it was asublime act of faith and leadership for te United States to deprive themselves of this very considerable mass of arms for the sake of a country which many deemed already beaten."


Peters, Charles. Five Days in Philadelphia: The Amazing "We Want Wilkie!" Convention of 1940.


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Created: 8:33 PM 10/9/2012
Last updated: 8:33 PM 10/9/2012