World War II: American Diplomacy


Figure 1.--

World War II histories generally focus on the dramatic German military campaigns during the first 2 years of the War when the United States was neutral. America was theoretically neutral and is often depicted as an impotent bystander. The Roosevelt Administration was, however, far from neutral. The foreign policy of the Roosevelt Administration was constrained by the fact that the great majority of the American people wanted no part of another world war. The Neutrality Acts and powerful Iolationist Mivement were powerful contraints to a foreceful foreign policy. Despite these constrints, among all the World War II combatants, the United States, the country most reluctant to fight, was the only country that had the human and industrial resources to wage a global war. And while America did not intervene militarily, President Roosevelt skillfully pursued a diplomacy that fundamentally altered the course of the War. First, The United States acted to save Britain and enabled the country to continued the War. This assistance would eventually be formalized in Lend Lease. With Britain unassaiable behind the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force shield, Hitler decided that the only way to bring Britain to the peace table was to defeat the Soviet Union, something that was central to his thinking from the beginning. This underlines the deisterous outlook of the Isolationists who fought to abandon Britain. Second the United States destracted the Japanese from joining the NAZI assault on the Soviet Union and with the oil embargo virtually forced the Japanese, who were intent on war, to attack the United States rather than the Soviet Union. This probably saved the Soviet Union and with it the outcome of the War. Thus the President in large measure determined the outcome of the War even before America entered the War. Pearl Harbor of course changed everything, plunging the United States into the War. American diplomacy focused on the war time alliance with Britain and the Soviets.

Blitzkrieg

World War II histories generally focus on the dramatic German military campaigns during the first 2 years of the War when the United States was neutral. German introduced Blitzkrieg, in effect, fusing long-established Prussian military dictrine with modern weaponry. In essence, the Germans created modern mobile warfare. They first introducd it with the invasion of Poland (September 1939). Their Sovet ally then invaded from the East. Some military analists dismissed the German victory, arguing that Poland was a small militarily weak country. But then after invading Denmark and Norway, German attacked France. Many saw the French Army as the strongest in the world. The quick German victory shocked the world. In the spave oif less tha a year, Hitler and the NAZIs at limited militaru cost had seized most of estern Europe. American diplomacy was seemn asinconsequentil in cimparison to the momentous German triumphs.

American Neutrality

America was theoretically neutral and is often depicted as an impotent bystander. The Roosevelt Administration was, however, far from neutral. The foreign policy of the Roosevelt Administration was constrained by the fact that the great majority of the American people wanted no part of another world war. The Neutrality Acts and powerful Iolationist Mivement were powerful contraints to a foreceful foreign policy. Despite these constrints, among all the World War II combatants, the United States, the country most reluctant to fight, was the only country that had the human and industrial resources to wage a global war. And while America did not intervene militarily, President Roosevelt skillfully pursued a diplomacy that would fundamentally alter the course of the War.

Election of 1940

The tuning point was the American presidential election of 1940. The Presidents ability to act ws limited by both the Neutrality Act and the Isolatinist Movemnent. A third factor was involved, he was a lame-duck president with only a few months left in office. And here was an unwritten rule limiting presidents to two terms. Here the war-time emergency resulted in the President running for a unprecedented third term. The President in the presidentil election ran on a pledge, "We are not going to send your boys to fight in foreign wars." He usually added, "Unless we are attcked."His election victory opened up an even more forceful effort to oppose the Axis short of war (Novermber 1940).

Critical Diplomatic Success in the Face of Axis Agression

The Administrations foreign policy while still neutral and while America still did not have an army of any importance played a critical role in the Allied World war II victory. The President's foreign policy before Pearl Harbor largely assured the Allied victory before the first Japanese bombs fell on Pearl Harbor. First, The United States acted to save Britain and enabled the country to continued the War. President Roosevelt attempted to offer some assitance, but Prime Minister Chamberlain showed little interest. After Hitler launched the War, the Preident began private conversations with Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty. After the fall of France and near destruction of the British Expeditionary Force, the President rushed emergency arms to Britain followed by a steady stream of actions completely violating America;s status as a neutral. This assistance would eventually be formalized in Lend Lease. With Britain unassaiable behind the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force shield, Hitler decided that the only way to bring Britain to the peace table was to defeat the Soviet Union, something that was central to his thinking from the beginning. This underlines the deisterous outlook of the Isolationists who fought to abandon Britain. President Roosevelt after Churchill became primeminister (May 1940) moved to form the Grand Alliance, this was arguably the most important and successful alliance in history. And it was forged in thevAtlantic Charler (August 1941) before America entered the War. Second, the Administration steadfastly supported China and gradually increased that support from the purely dipolmatic to material support. This so enraged the Japanese that it helped to swing the balance of power in Japan from the Strike North Faction to the Strike South Faction intent on seizing the resources of the Southern Resource Zone. The United States destracted the Japanese from joining the NAZI assault on the Soviet Union and with the oil embargo virtually forced the Japanese, who were intent on war, to attack the United States rather than the Soviet Union. This probably saved the Soviet Union and with it the outcome of the War. Had the Japanese struck north at the Soviet Union to support their German ally, it is very likely the Soviet Union would have been defeated. And in addition the President's policies, especially attacks on U-boats, had so enraged Hitler that he with no need took the completely irrational action of declaring war on the United States. Thus the President's actions in large measure determined the outcome of the War even before America entered the War. Pearl Harbor of course changed everything, plunging the United States into the War. This is of course not in any way to detract from the courage and sacrifice of the men and women who fought the good fight at great personal cost. It is to say that President Rosevelt's diplomacy fundamentally changed the balance of power so that the Allied forces had the material capability to defeat the Axis.

Pearl Harbor: The End of Isolationism (December 1941)

The Isolationists were one of the most powerful political movements in American history. Beginning with President Washington, there has always been a strong isolationist movement in America, one that is still presentr today. For about 4 years President Roosevelkt had been fighting the isolationists who had come to see him as a war mongerer, detwrmined to drag America into the European war. Republican Congressmen were importaht isolationists. There were also Democrats, including the Ambassaor to Great Britain, Joeph P. Kennedy. Perhaps the most iportant isolationist was aviator Charles Lindurgh. the greatest hero of the inter-War era. He was an influential voice in the most important isolatiuonist group--the American First Committee. The President won the major battles with the isolationists, including repealing the Neutrality Acts, aiding Britin, beginning a peace-time draft, and Lend Lease. Even so, the isolationists significatly impeeded his efforts to resist Axis aggression. Even as the bombs were falling at Pearl, the American Firsters staged a major rally in Pittsburgh. In a hall festooned with red, white, and wall bannets, the American Firsters engaged in anti-Roosevelt cheers awaiting the main address by Congressman Gerald Nye. He brushed aside the first news reports of the attack and delivered an anti-Roosevelt tirade, charging that the President was leading us into War and included the standard isolationist line that the munitioin makers were behind the War. Immediately afterwards Nye would blame the British. Few of the isolationists includiung Nye knew as they filed out of the auditorium that their movement that had been so powerful and influential had literally evaporate as soon as the American public learned about the Japanese sneak attack on America.

War Time Diplomacy

American diplomacy focused on the war time alliance with Britain and the Soviets.







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Created: 2:02 AM 2/26/2014
Last updated: 2:02 AM 2/26/2014