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Byra 1 Mike Byra HIST 300D US Wars Paper 11/11/11 Ready and Waiting for WWII The president

reassured the public, "the people of Europe who are defending themselves do not ask us to do their fighting and I hereby say that our national policy is not directed toward war."1 These were the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt as he addressed the American public during his 1940 campaign for reelection. Sticking to a continual theme of broken presidential campaign promises, FDR formally declared war on Japan on December 8th, 1941. Then three days later Hitler declared war on the US because of Germany's Axis alliance with Japan. Therefore, less than a year after FDR declared that "our national policy is not directed toward war" the US was officially going to war.2 Still, even though the US remained isolated during the beginning of WWII, the US government was already in the process of going to war before the events of Pearl Harbor drew the country officially into the war. My aim is to show that FDR and his military planners were planning for war well before the events of Pearl Harbor through many different acts and programs. First, the lend-lease program, which gave aid to the British and Soviet Union, showed that American industry was already in the process of rapid militarization. The country's amassing of an arsenal showed that the US was gradually gearing up for its own involvement before any formal declaration of war. Second, the different acts passed by FDR in the years between 1939 and 1941 demonstrated how the US was gradually preparing itself through technological innovations and conscription. Third, FDR's deception through secret meetings with British officials further demonstrated how the US was already planning their

Schuessler, John M. "The Deception Dividend: FDR's Undeclared War." International Security, No. 4 (Spring 2010): 155. 2 Ibid., 155.

Byra 2 strategy for war. These points showed how FDR and the US government was slowly getting ready to take on the Axis powers, yet the American public's support of isolationism remained a constant setback. Nevertheless, the rest of this paper will show how plans were well underway for the US to join in the fight before any official declaration of war. Before WWII officially began with the invasion of Poland on September 1st, 1939, the US public remained defiant to keep the US isolated from any foreign wars. Still, many Americans were unaware that before the formal entry to war the US already began to gear up.3 With the war heating up on the European continent an American home front slowly started to emerge with the defeat of France. As Great Britain became one of the last fighting contingents on the continent the American government realized it had to do something to keep one of its strongest allies fighting, for the US also wanted to keep out any German threat. After the fall of France existing manufacturing facilities began to be converted for war production.4 American industry began producing in mass quantity shells, weapons, ammunition and other war products for the British. Interestingly enough, during the entire war American industry provided almost two thirds of all the Allied military equipment.5 Still, the truth in American war production lies in the fact that the country was slowly amassing an arsenal that supported itself in case of any American involvement. The Reorganization Act of 1939 had a board that had to prepare a continuing six year program of public works.6 One of its major questions was that after defense what would come next?7 Sure enough, the US was slowly gearing up to take part in WWII, but

3 3

Warm, Tracy. "Wartime Production." OAH Magazine of History, No. 3 (Spring 2002): 47. Harper, Marilyn. "World War II & The American Home Front." The National Historic Landmarks Program, (October 2007): 14. 4 Ibid., 14. 5 Ibid., 6. 6 Merriam, Charles E. "The National Resources Planning Board; A Chapter in American Planning Experience." The American Political Science Review, No. 6 (December 1944): 1082. 7 Ibid., 1083.

Byra 3 first the government had to pass certain acts that would further strengthen the country's military might apart from its industry. In August of 1939 FDR had created the War Resources Board whose sole purpose was to assist in industrial mobilization.8 Obviously this board was responsible for the rapid production of war goods, which led some Americans to question whether or not the US was just helping its allies or preparing itself for war. Isolationists feared that this plan would lead the US into war, for the plan made it clear that the US was heavily in favor of developing mobilization efforts towards war industry.9 Sure enough the US was slowly getting underway in having a larger part in the war effort by its support of the British and Soviet Allies through what became known as the lend-lease program. Accordingly, FDR labeled the program as American's last chance to avoid war.10 Interestingly enough, the program never fully mentioned how long the US was willing to support its allies from a distance and whether or not US military presence would ever become necessary as part of the program. The lend-lease program took effect after the fall of France in 1940 as Britain remained one of the last allies fighting in Europe. The program assisted the British and Soviet Union with lend lease aid and convoy protection over the Atlantic.11 Sure enough the US used the program in an effort to protect itself from the Germans as it did everything in its power to keep the one sole ally in Europe from falling under Nazi Germany. There was much more to the lend-lease program than what the public was fully aware of. An act passed in March of 1941 left repayment clauses in an effort to avoid war debt problems like the ones that occurred after WWI.12 Sure this

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Harper, 14. Ibid., 15. 10 Kimball, Warren F. "Lend Lease and the Open Door: The Temptation of British Opulence, 1937-1942." Political Science Quarterly, No. 2 (June 1971): 243. 11 Schuessler, 147. 12 Kimball, 238.

Byra 4 was an example of the US looking out for its own financial assets, but more so it showed that the country was pretty much geared for an eventual end to the war. At the present time, Germany kept advancing by taking over parts of Yugoslavia and Greece while the British RAF was under constant threat by the German Luftwaffe. Still, the US made an effort to keep its financial stability in check. While over the Atlantic the British believed that with the German occupation of Western Europe guns became more important than bank balances.13 As the political situation in Europe slowly deteriorated political leaders in America believed that providing England with war materials became crucial.14 Still, many of the American politicians supporting the lend-lease program were much in favor of isolationism, but the act of assisting the allies with arms slowly led the US to have some form of involvement with the war. What left an even larger imprint on America's gradual involvement with the war was more than just a program that gave war supplies. Eventually FDR approved the lending of American destroyers to the British Fleet.15 Within days British planners had arrived in America and were well on their way to take the destroyers towards the British front. Symbolically, this showed that the US was willing to give the British military support on a grand scale. Even if American troops weren't being deployed the sending over of destroyers adds to the crucial war machines needed for the allies, yet the US government was showing signs of getting its forces ready beyond industry and the leasing of war goods. The US started to pass acts and programs that made its mobilization for war even more prevalent. By the Spring of 1940 the National Defense Appropriation Act left billions of dollars devoted to the flow to war production over the next five years.16 Alongside the industrial buildup

13 14

Ibid., 240. Ibid., 240. 15 Warm, 47. 16 Harper, 16.

Byra 5 in the US, the budget now began to look more like a country that was at war or at least mobilizing itself. With mobilized industry and money came new innovations that further led to America's war preparations. FDR created the National Defense Research Committee, which led to innovations in atomic energy, radar, large scale production of penicillin and the production of amphibious vehicles.17 Wars have brought new innovations throughout history and the US reversed that trend by focusing on new technologies that would advance their war efforts. From highly useful innovations like radar to the medical field, the country was surely preparing itself for a war that was against a formidable opponent. With the influx of money and the investment in wartime technologies well before any formal declaration of war from the US, it became apparent that the government was getting ready, even though it maintained its isolationist stance. Another factor that contributed to US mobilization was the reinstatement and conscription of the armed forces. In 1939 with unemployment still at depression levels there came a widespread call for mobilization.18 Millions of men decided to join the armed forces with the men quickly being moved to military bases for training.19 Interestingly enough, this rapid increase in men joining the armed forces was happening at the same time the majority of the public was calling for isolation, so there must of have been a reason for the sudden increase in men. Most likely since WWII had broken out the public still felt the need to be ready for war even if it wasn't a popular thing at the time. In September of 1940 the Selective Service Act created the first peacetime draft in the nation's history.20 There was a conscription of 900,000 men for up to one year.21 FDR stood before congress and called out the serial numbers of the first men picked for service. Ironically, why would a country need a peacetime draft if it didn't
17 18

Ibid., 20. Ibid., 8. 19 Ibid., 8. 20 Ibid., 24. 21 Ibid., 24.

Byra 6 have plans for war in the near future. Quite frankly, conscription became the guiding force in the public's thinking that the US was going to fight in the war. It only became a matter of time until it became realized, yet FDR had some doubts. FDR understood that public support for a war was unlikely in an absence of a major provocation.22 That major provocation came in the form of Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, but still the time leading up to that provocation had many Americans skeptical and questioning all those around them. After the collapse of Western Europe many Americans were led believe that there were spies on the home front. The so-called "fifth column" represented the public's belief that many people around them were under suspicion of espionage and spying within their own country.23 Even with America's isolationist views many acted as if the country was increasingly a part of the paranoid and hysterical culture produced by the war. Eventually the government followed the same path when in the spring of 1940 FDR authorized wiretaps on "persons suspected of subversive activities."24 The US government began to look more concerned and involved with the war effort by their own interest in spies at home. American public opinion began to be affected by the happenings in Europe as more people began to take more interest in Nazi Germany's stance with America. By May 1941, 70% of the public was convinced that Hitler sought to dominate the US.25 American sentiments were slowly getting into place, so FDR and the government could manifest America's involvement in the war. The rest of the paper will focus on FDR's increasingly interventionist, anti-Axis policies. Through the use of deception and secrecy the president was able to get all the factors in place for the US to be ready for war when the time came. In his 1940 presidential campaign FDR pledged

22 23

Schuessler, 145. Harper, 36. 24 Ibid., 36. 25 Schuessler, 153.

Byra 7 that the US will not enter a European war, but in the fall of 1941 he became more forceful in describing Nazi Germany as a clear and immediate danger to national security.26 FDR kept using deceit to his advantage by constantly reassuring the isolationist American public that there will be no war for Americans, but his underlying message was that Nazi Germany stood as a threat for America's way of life. In a speech given in March of 1941 FDR said Nazi Germany openly seeks destruction of all elective systems of government - including our own.27 FDR began using more scare tactics to try and force the American public to believe that a war against Nazi Germany was a war for everything America stood for in respect to FDR's notion of elective systems of government. More so, a year before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor FDR asked the American people to become the arsenal of democracy.28 FDR was trying to reach out to the American people by making them believe that they had a duty to serve the allies in Europe because they upheld the principles of democracy. One of the first major actions that the US took before any formal declaration of war was the fight in the Atlantic Ocean. Initially the fighting that took place in the Atlantic became regarded as the undeclared war.29 The main cause of the Atlantic being called an undeclared war was because of the position that American vessels took while at sea. In March 1941 FDR gave the navy escort convoys orders to "shoot on sight" if they were to encounter any Axis warships.30 FDR initially ordered the Atlantic Fleet for active duty, but his main concern was that the lendlease supplies would arrive safely in Britain.31 Overall, the US fleets took active part in the war by coming across German warships while defending their lend-lease supplies. Still, these actions

Reiter, Dan. "FDR, U.S. Entry into World War II, and Selection Effects Theory." International Security, No. 2 (Fall 2010): 184. 27 Ibid., 178. 28 Harper, 244. 29 Schuessler, 146. 30 Ibid., 156. 31 Ibid., 156.

Byra 8 were officially in an effort to support the British allies and not come into confrontation with German forces, only if the situation called for it. In 1941 the US occupied Iceland with the support of Britain in an effort to have more control over the Atlantic.32 In general, the US became a watchdog for convoys, but its actions only mounted the government's efforts to get the US to war. The main reason for this was because the undeclared war in the Atlantic was designed by America, so it was the country's intention to be active instead of just producing supplies. What became the pinnacle of the government's ambitions to enter the war were the secret meetings that the public wasn't aware of between American higher intelligence and British personnel. In the Fall of 1940 the US government came up with the Plan Dog Memorandum, which stated that should Britain lose the war with Germany then the military consequences for the US would be extremely serious. In an effort to avert this dyer seriousness the US would be required to participate in an invasion of Axis territory.33 Such a plan showed that the US was more than willing to enter the war if Britain fell under Nazi Germany. Surely, FDR knew that his lend-lease program was keeping Britain in the fight, but soon he knew personally that Britain couldn't hold out for too long. Therefore, the next year government personnel came up with a revised version of their strategy for what to do. In Spring 1941 the Victory Program said that if European enemies were to be defeated then it was necessary for the US to enter the war.34 Remember that this was a top secret plan that was set up in Spring, many months before the formal declaration of war by the US. By this point the US government knew that Britain was only on the defensive and the only way to take down the threat of Nazi Germany was American intervention. All the time mobilizing war resources and men paid off as the US knew it didn't

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Ibid., 157. Ibid., 149. 34 Ibid., 150.

Byra 9 have a choice. Still, the redundant issue of a provocation was needed in order to sway the isolationist public in America. Another aspect of the US government's secret talks was in large part between the British allies and the American government. Starting in January 1941 authorized secret talks between US planners and their British counterparts took place. These talks were called the ABC Talks and they were plans in case the US entered the war.35 The US was never alone in its desire to fight in the war, for British support always remained. Now, the two allies were able to communicate a strategy for getting the US into the war. An observer from the meetings said that these talks provided the highest degree of strategic preparedness.36 All the cards were in place and now the US waited diligently for any form of provocation to lead the public in supporting a war. One of the main initial provocations came when the USS Greer fired on a German ship in September of 1941. As mentioned, the US Navy Fleet was ordered to stay active on the Atlantic as they were meant to guard lend-lease convoys. FDR wanted the incident to increase US support for the war by distorting the details to make Germany look like the aggressor.37 Still, it became apparent that Navy skirmishes weren't enough to get the American public in favor of a full on war. Whatever the case might be, this only further exemplified the fact that FDR wanted to provoke the public into believing in the threat the Germans posed for America. In light of the need for provocation, FDR imposed oil sanctions on Japan in July of 1941, which created a whole new geographic locale that could create provocation. Accordingly, Roosevelt himself understood that an embargo on Japan can lead to an attack.38 Still, the truth was in the fact that

35 36

Ibid., 155. Ibid., 155. 37 Reiter, 179. 38 Ibid., 180.

Byra 10 Roosevelt himself tried to reduce provocation from Japan by proposing that instead of ending oil exports to Japan, the US should just reduce exports.39 Overall, the end result came when in December the Japanese retaliated with an attack on Pearl Harbor. The provocation came and soon enough the US was formally involved with WWII, but instead of focusing solely on Europe there came a two front war. In conclusion, The US government started off by mobilizing its resources then its man power to be prepared for a war they believed would happen eventually. The war industry was booming as billions of dollars were put into the budget for war production. British and Soviet allies were given these war supplies under the lend-lease program. The shipment of the supplies was carried out by the US Navy whose job it was to protect the convoys. Initially this led to skirmishes between the Navy and Germans, but it wasn't enough to sway the American public's isolationist views. In general, the American public needed to be provoked to get behind total war, yet they still remained on edge with issues like spies dominating their fears at home. More so, the US reinstated conscription, but one that was considered a peacetime draft. Whatever the case was, the US government was doing everything in its power to mobilize resources and men in an effort to go to war. Secret strategies like the Victory Program and ABC Talks remained a secret kept from the public. They solidified the government's need to go to war months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. The government realized that one of the only ways for the Axis powers to be defeated was if the US led in the invasion of Axis territory. Britain remained on the defensive, even with American supplies, and it was up to the American people to do their part not as Americans, but as the arsenal of democracy.


Ibid., 180.