From Isolationism to Global War

After end of World War I, America returned to isolationist tendencies. Americans yearned for the "good old days," and Warren Harding was intent on returning them.

The U.S. refused to join League of Nations. In his victory speech after winning election, Harding said "You just didn’t want a surrender of the United States, that’s why you didn’t care for the League, which is now deceased.

Higher tariffs inhibited trade with other nations.

The "Red Scare"

Restrictive immigration laws fueled by the rage for "100 per cent Americanism. Restrictive immigrations laws all but shut the door on immigration, interestingly to a nation that was itself a nation of immigrants. The old "we got here first" philosophy was alive and well.

America was not completely isolated; in fact it couldn’t afford to be:

Overseas possessions involved U.S. in world affairs, particularly in the Pacific.

American business was worldwide. This put dollars in circulation that were used to buy American exports.

U.S. had "unofficial observers" at League of Nations by 1922. After 1924, American diplomats cooperated with League in matters of criminal traffic, arms trade, etc.

The World Court at the Hague caused mixed feelings. American judges sat on World Court at The Hague, but U.S. did not participate. Americans liked the idea of bringing disputes before a court of justice; but the idea of "extranational authority: was too much for the isolationists, even though jurisdiction of the World Court was to be optional. Repeated efforts to join failed.

European War debts to U.S. had heightened anti-American feeling in Europe. In 1917, when the Allies had exhausted their ability to pay for American military supplies, the U.S. government advanced funds for the war, and later for postwar construction. A World War Foreign Debt Commission was created by Congress in 1922 to negotiate the debt; which was set at $11.5 Billion. It was to be repaid, with interest over sixty-two years, which would raise the total debt to $22 Billion.

Americans thought it was a simple matter; honest people paid their bills; the Europeans owed America, so they should pay their bill, end of story. It wasn’t that simple. The money Americans loaned had not necessarily gone to Europe; it had rather been used to purchase military supplies in the U.S., which had fueled the economic boom of the war years. Allies resented fact that US made money supplying war materiel while they paid price in blood. The British quickly reminded US had repudiated debts to British after Revolutionary War; French said had never been repaid for helping with American Revolution--excuses, excuses!

The biggest problem was practicality. Europeans needed U.S. dollars to repay the debt, and to raise the dollars they had to sell goods to the United States. Problem was, the U.S. had set high tariffs in 1921 and 1922, and again in 1930, which made it harder and harder to sell goods in the U.S. Payment in gold would have worked, but since most European currencies were on the gold standard, this would have undermined European currencies.

The French insisted they could repay America only as they were paid by Germany, and Germany was suffering from the debt structure imposed on it after the war. Its economy was on the verge of collapse. Several times when it almost collapsed, American bankers were called in to work out rescue plans. During the Great Depression, the Germany economy did collapse.

Hoover declared moratorium on war debt both German reparations and Allied war debt payments. He had hoped to protect private loans by Americans in Germany. This arrangement tacitly accepted the position that payment of war debts was interconnected with Germany’s payment of War reparations. But, once the U.S. accepted that relationship, the European Allies virtually cancelled German reparation payments. Then, in 1932, when the moratorium ended, most European countries simply defaulted on debt to the U.S.

By 1924, only one Country still honored its war debt to the U.S: Finland.

As a result, Congress passed Johnson Debt Default Act (1934) which prohibited even private loans to defaulting governments.

Attempts at Disarmament

Woodrow Wilson’s idealism had hit home with many people. Many Americans felt guilty about the rejection of League of Nations membership, and so Harding’s advisors came up with a happy compromise: There was a common belief that the war had been caused by excessive armaments; so the solution was disarmament. The U.S. had no intention of keeping a large Navy, it was too expensive; plus both the U.S. and Britain were growing distrustful of the Japanese.

Us/Japanese relations were very strained at this point. The Japanese had constantly encroached into Asia, which the U.S. resented. Japan had signed an alliance with Great Britain in 1902, but used it in 1914 against Germany in order to gain German territories in Asia. They had seized large portions of the Shantung Peninsula and the islands of Micronesia, which Germany had purchased from Spain earlier. The League of Nations had later sanctioned Japanese occupation, which gave them a clear shot at the Philippines.

Japan had also moved against China during the war. IN 1915, it had issued the Twenty-one Demands, which would have made China virtually a Japanese colony. The U.S. protested, and Japan backed down. Strains were becoming more evident, so, in 1932. Charles Evans Hughes (Harding’s Sec. Of State) called Washington Armaments Conference.

I convening the conference, Hughes said in his opening statement, "the way to disarm is to disarm." The only way to stop the arms race was to "end it now." It turned out to be a dramatic statement. One reporter wrote that Hughes had, with that one statement, "destroyed more tonnage than all the admirals of the world have sunk in a cycle of centuries."

Several agreements were reached as a result of the Armaments Conference:

Five-Power Naval Treaty: placed tonnage limits and 10-year moratorium on building new Battleships. (signed by US, Britain, France, Italy and Japan). The signatories also agreed not to further fortify possessions in the Pacific.

The effect of this agreement was to partition the world: The U.S. was the primary naval power in the Western Hemisphere, and Japan in the western Pacific. Britain controlled the area from the North Sea to Singapore.

Four-Power Treaty: (US, Britain, France, Japan) each country would respect other’s Pacific possessions. Any disputes would be referred to consultation. (Whatever that means.)

Nine-Power Treaty: All promised to observe Open Door policy in China, and to respect China’s territorial integrity.

Harding proudly announced that he had relieved the taxpayers of the need for a large navy, and Congress quickly ratified the treaties. There was some opposition to the Four Power Treaty, but it was ratified after the Senate tacked on a provision that "there is no commitment to armed force, no alliance, no obligation to join any defense."

Problem was, none of the agreements had any teeth, and there was no obligation imposed on any party. The signers of the Four-Power treaty had agreed only to consult, not help each other militarily. The naval disarmament treaty had only limited capital ships (battleships and aircraft carriers). Cruisers, destroyers, submarines, etc. were still built. IN 1934, Japan withdrew from the agreement, and the whole idea of naval disarmament went down the toilet.

Some idealistic Americans bought into the idea of abolishing war. IN Chicago, a group called the American Committee for the Outlawry of War (ACOW), which said, "we can outlaw this war system just as we outlawed slavery and the saloon." Thus came the brilliant idea of outlawing war.

In 1928, the French foreign minister, Aristide Briand, proposed to the U.S. Secretary of State, Frank B. Kellogg, that the two countries sign an agreement that they would never go to war against one another. It was really a ploy to get the U.S. into the French defensive system, as a virtual ally. The agreement would preclude the U.S. from interfering in any French military action anywhere – neat trick, if it would work. Kellogg was not too thrilled; then when he found out that Briand had been speaking to the ACOW people, he was thoroughly P.O.ed.

So, Kellogg outsmarted Briand. He proposed that all nations sign the agreement. Briand couldn’t really say no, so, on August 27, 1928, the Pact of Paris was signed that solemnly condemned "recourse to war. . . and renounce it as an instrument of national policy." (Yeah, right.) Sixty-two nations signed it, but all reserved "self defense" as an exception. The U.S. Senate added its own reservation, declaring that preservation of the Monroe Doctrine (that pesky thing) was necessary to self-defense. One Senator described it as "worthless but perfectly harmless."

Good Neighbor Policy:

Relationships with Latin American Countries had been soured for years after military intervention, but began to sweeten. Harding Administration paid Panama $25 million for rights to the Canal, and troops were pulled out of the Dominican Republic.

In 1928, President Coolidge went to Havana to attend the Pan American Conference, and in 1928, Hoover, while President elect, toured ten Latin American Nations. Hence was born the "good neighbor" policy. In 1933, the U.S. supported a resolution at the Pan-American conference that stated "no state has the right to intervene in the internal or external affairs of another." Later, a treaty was signed that abrogated the Platt Amendment.

War Clouds

Japan suffered from Great Depression and a Chinese boycott of Japanese goods; a nationalist movement resulted, particularly of young military officers, who were determined to bring about "moral regeneration."

Japan, an island like Britain, had the same economic difficulties: few natural resources, and no oil. Manchuria was very tempting at this point. On an excuse when a Japanese railroad was blown up Japan invaded Manchuria and set up a puppet empire known as "Manchukuo." This was a flagrant violation of the Nine-Power Agreement and the Kellogg-Briand Pact, as well as its obligations under the League of Nations charter. China asked for help from the League and the U.S., but it’s request fell on deaf ears. Later, in 1932, the Japanese attacked and bombed Shanghai. When the League of Nations condemned the action, Japan withdrew from the League.

There were also problems in Europe: Benito Mussolini, Fascist party took over Italian Government; Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party took over German government.

NOTE: Because a substantial portion of events in Europe at this time are covered in World History Courses, only cursory mention will be made here.

Americans by and large wanted to remain neutral. In 1932, Roosevelt changed his previous position, and said he was not in favor of the U.S. joining the League of Nations. This did nothing for relationships in Europe, and led to the final default of War Debt. As a result, Americans became even more isolationist than before.

IN 1934, Japan renounced the Five Power Naval Treaty; Mussolini commence the conquest of Ethiopia in 1935, and in 1936, Hitler reoccupied the Rhineland. His occupation, with armed forces, was a violation of the Versailles Treaty, but the French only sat idly by.

Civil War broke out in Spain in 1936, and in 1937, Japanese and Chinese troops fought at the Marco Polo Bridge near Peking. IT soon became a full-scale war, and was the beginning of World War II in Asia, although the Japanese called it simply the "China incident."

Later that year, Japan, Germany and Italy signed the "Anti-Comintern Pact," ostensibly to stop Communism. This established the relationship between the three.

1938: Anschluss with Austria: took Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia.

1939: Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia.

Sept 1, 1939: Germany invaded Poland; declaration of War by Britain and France followed.

The U.S. remained isolationist. The prevailing sentiment was that bankers and munitions manufacturers had involved US in WWI; said US had been duped by "Merchants of Death."

Congress preoccupied itself with avoiding war.

Neutrality Act of 1935: forbade sale of arms to all belligerents if the President proclaimed that a state of war existed. It also stated that Americans who traveled on belligerent ships did so at their own risk.

Americans gradually grew more and more isolationist. In the spring of 1937, a Gallup poll found that 94% of Americans preferred efforts to keep out of war over efforts to prevent war.

Congress passed another neutrality law that same year that forbade Americans from traveling on belligerent ships and arming of American merchant ships trading with belligerents. It also restrained the sale of arms to belligerents. At the same time, it gave the President authority to require belligerents who purchased goods to pay in cash and carry them away in their own ships. ("Cash and carry.") A neat trick: It allowed U.S. merchants to trade with belligerents and at the same time allowed the country to stay out of the war – or so they thought.

But still problems: Japanese bombed; sank American gunboat in Yangske River. –the Japanese apologized but there was still a growing U.S. sentiment against Japan.

There was still strong isolationist sentiment, as indicated by the Ludlow Amendment, a proposed constitutional amendment that would require a public referendum for Declaration of War. Roosevelt fought hard against it, and it failed by a vote of 208 – 188 in the House. Close call!

As Hitler continued his march across Europe into Czechoslovakia, Roosevelt asked Congress to repeal the Neutrality Act. Americans were appalled at Hitler’s actions, but didn’t want to get involved. Said one editor, "What the majority of the American people want is to be as un-neutral as possible without getting into war."

October 3, 1939, the foreign ministers of the American republics adopted the Declaration of Panama, which created a "chastity belt" around the Americas south of Canada, 300 to 1000 miles wide in which belligerents were warned not to pursue naval action.

The idea was to prohibit German naval activity near North and South American coasts.

It didn’t deter the Germans or British, of course. A British tanker was torpedoed and sank off the coast of Myrtle Beach by a German U-boat during this time. Gates has a friend who was in high school at the time. It was summer, and he reported that his Dad was home for lunch, when a tremendous explosion was heard that rocked the entire beach. Everyone went outside, and the sky was black with smoke. Over the next few days, bodies of British soldiers washed up on the beach.

War in Europe

pril 9, 1940, Germany invaded Denmark and Norway. Denmark fell in a day; Norway within a few weeks. Later, Hitler sent armies against Belgium and the Netherlands. May 21, German troops had French and British troops backed up against the English Channel at Dunkirk. A desperate evacuation operation was conducted, involving anything that would float and cross the channel, to rescue the British army and remnants of the French.

German forces outflanked France’s Maginot Line, and cut the French Army in pieces. To spread panic, the Germans strafed refugees. June 10, 1940, Italy entered the war as Germany’s ally. Said Mussolini: "I need only a few thousand dead to enable me to take my seat…at the peace table." June 14, Paris was captured; on June 22, the French surrendered in Hitler’s presence in the same Railroad car at Compienge in which German delegates had signed the Armistice of 1918. Great Britain now stood alone. Even so, Winston Churchill was defiant: "We shall go on to the end…we shall never surrender."

Hitler attacked Britain with the Luftwaffe, and suddenly America seemed vulnerable. Roosevelt asked for the production of 50,000 combat planes in his budget message. Stocks of planes, weapons, and munitions were released to the British.

June, 1940, Roosevelt set up the National Defense Research Committee to coordinate military research. Among the plans on the table: the development of an Atomic Bomb. Albert Einstein had suggested the possibility.

The German Blitz failed to defeat the British, so Hitler turned to submarine warfare. The Royal Navy was in dire straits, so Churchill requested that American destroyers be transferred to Britain. Secret negotiations led to the British receiving 50 "overaged" American destroyers in exchange for 99-year leases on naval and air bases around the world in British territories.

Roosevelt rather thinly disguised this plan by claiming that it was necessary for protection of the hemisphere…the old Monroe Doctrine again. He said it was the "most important action in the reinforcement of our national defense that has been taken since the Louisiana Purchase."

Immediately after this, Congress adopted the first peacetime conscription in American History. All men aged 21 – 35 had to serve one year in the military.

Suddenly, a big debate erupted between the Internationalists and Isolationists. Isolationists said Roosevelt was drawing the country into a needless war. Committees were organized on both sides:

· The Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies – most support came from the East and West Coasts and the South.

· The America First Committee – isolationists who said that the war involved "nothing more than another chapter in the bloody volume of European Power Politics." They said that although a Nazi Victory would be distasteful, it would not pose a threat to American national security. Among its members were Charles A. Lindbergh and Herbert Hoover.

In the meantime, the Presidential election of 1940 rolled around. Roosevelt was renominated by the Democrats. There were no strong Republican candidates, so they nominated a virtual darkhorse, Wendell Wilkie.

Wilkie was a former Democrat who had voted for Roosevelt in 1932. He openly supported aiding the allies. During the campaign, he said of Roosevelt, "if you elect him, you may expect war in April, 1941." Roosevelt responded by saying, "I have said this before, but I shall say it again and again and again. Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars."

Roosevelt won by a comfortable margin: 449 – 82 in the electoral college. Roosevelt’s victory was apparently based on the Democratic slogan: "Don’t switch horses in midstream.

Roosevelt’s strong victory convinced him to pursue more aid for Britain. He came to this decision after a message from Churchill that Britain was running out of cash fast. Direct American financial aid was out of the question – Britain had defaulted on earlier war debts, and that default meant future direct aid was prohibited by the Johnson Act. So, Roosevelt came up with a "bypass" plan to get aid to Britain – the Lend-lease program.

In a fireside chat, Roosevelt told Americans that America must become the "great arsenal of democracy" because of the possibility that Britain would fall to Nazi attack. In a message to Congress, January 6, 1941, he said that only the British navy stood between America and a possible attack by Germany, therefore it was imperative that Britain be supported. Said Roosevelt, "they do not need manpower. They do need billions of dollars worth of the weapons of defense."

It was during this speech that Roosevelt enunciated the Four Freedoms of Democracy:

· Freedom of Speech

· Freedom of Worship

· Freedom from Want

· Freedom from Fear

January 10, 1941, the Lend Lease Bill which authorized the president to "sell, transfer, exchange, lend, lease, or otherwise dispose of arms and other equipment and supplies to any country whose defense the President deems vital to the defense of the United States" was introduced into Congress. Debate was heated.

Sen. Burton Wheeler bitterly commented: "The Lend Lease program is the New Deal’s triple A foreign policy; it will plow under every fourth American boy." Roosevelt shot back that this was "the rottenest thing that has been said in public life in my generation."

In the meantime, Hitler had abandoned the attack on Great Britain, and had attacked the Soviet Union. Winston Churchill had previously decided to support the Soviets if Germany should attack. Said he, "If Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least a favorable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons."

It was apparent to Roosevelt and Churchill that the defense of the Soviets was vital for the defense of Britain. If the Soviets were defeated, Hitler could concentrate all his forces on an invasion of Britain, and if Britain fell, the U.S. would be his next target.

August, 1941, Roosevelt and Churchill met off the coast of Newfoundland secretly and signed an agreement later known as the Atlantic Charter: It stated joint aims for the war, including self-determination of all peoples, equal access to raw materials, economic cooperation, freedom of the seas, and a new system of general security. Later, fifteen nations opposed to the Axis powers endorsed the charter.

Soon thereafter, shooting incidents between German and American forces took place in the North Atlantic. September 4, 1941, a German U-Boat fired torpedoes at the USS Greer, which led Roosevelt to issue "shoot on sight" orders to the navy. He called the U-Boats "rattlesnakes of the Atlantic." Early November, the USS Reuben James was torpedoed and sank, with loss of 96 officers and enlisted men. As a result, Congress passed legislation which repealed the ban on arming merchant vessels and allowed them to enter combat zones.

Shi: "Step by step, the United States had given up neutrality and embarked on naval warfare against Germany."


Storm in the Pacific

The Japanese had been bogged down in China (the country was just too big) and attacked French Indochina, the Dutch East Indies, British Malaya and Burma. They cut off the Burma Road, and thus gained access to large amounts of raw materials in the region. France had fallen to Germany and was operating under the Vichy Government, a Nazi puppet. That government agreed to allow the Japanese to build airfields in northern Indochina and cut off the railroad into South China.

In response to this, the U.S. passed the Export Control Act of July 2, 1940 – allowed the president to restrict exports to Japan. Roosevelt gradually extended embargoes over aviation gas, scrap iron, etc.

This was a serious blow to the Japanese War effort. Japan was heavily dependent upon the U.S. for supplies, including 80% of its oil supply.

September 27, 1940 – Germany, Italy and Japan signed the Tripartite Pact: Each pledged to declare war on any nation that attacked any of them.

Hitler had hoped by this agreement to have the Japanese attack the Soviet Union from the East by invading Siberia. However, the Japanese signed a non-aggression pact with the Soviets which meant the Japanese need not fear attack from the Soviets, and were free to proceed in Asia.

July 1941, Japan said it was assuming a protectorate over all French Indochina. In response, Roosevelt froze Japanese assets in the U.S.; restricted exports of oil to Japan, and put the armed forces of the Philippines under Army jurisdiction under command of Gen. Douglas McArthur.

The oil restriction soon devolved into an embargo. The Japanese estimated their oil reserves at two years maximum. They therefore began looking for areas in Asia where they could secure oil.

Both the U.S. and Japan made mistakes that led to a war that neither side wanted. Roosevelt’s Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, demanded Japan withdraw from Indochina and China before trade could resume. Had he been more flexible, war might have been avoided. In Japan, Warlords had taken over the government who did not dare leave the American Navy intact. The Philippines also presented a problem to them, as they stood near their new source of supplies in the South Pacific. They seriously misjudged the desperate wish of Americans to stay out of war.

August 1941, the Japanese Premier, Fumimaro Konoye proposed a personal meeting with Roosevelt. Cordell Hull advised Roosevelt against it unless a fundamental agreement could be reached in advance. September 6, an imperial conference in Tokyo approved plans for an attack on the U.S. Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

The Japanese emperor, Hirohito; was clearly displeased, and this gave Konoye another opportunity to work out a compromise; but the U.S. refused to budge as long as Japan had troops in China. Konoye advised the War minister, Kideki Tojo to consider withdrawal from China. Tojo responded with his "maximum concession," that his troops would stay in China only 25 years provided the U.S. stopped aid to China. Tojo threatened to resign otherwise. This created a government crisis, and Konoye himself resigned on October 15. Tojo became Premier the next day; and the War Party had complete control of the Japanese government.

A key figure in Japan’s plans to attack Pearl Harbor was Admiral Isokuru Yamamoto, the commander of the Imperial Fleet. He had graduated from M.I.T. in the United States, and spoke fluent English, however, he had little respect for the American Navy, stating that it’s officer’s corps was nothing but a group of golfers and bridge players. He had advised Tojo that the only possible way Japan could defeat the U.S. was to destroy the Pacific Fleet while at anchor. Spies had reported the presence of the fleet at Pearl Harbor.

U.S. intelligence had picked up Japanese movements South, and assumed an attack on British and Dutch possessions in South Asia. They also expected a possible attack on the Philippines. Pearl Harbor was never considered.

December 7, 1941, the last part of a fourteen-part message to the Japanese ambassador in Washington was decoded. It instructed him to break off negotiations and deliver the message at 1:00 p.m. (This was one half hour before the planned attack on Pearl Harbor at 7:30 a.m. Several delays prevented delivery of the message for more than an hour. The War Department had sent out an alert that something was about to happen, but the message went by commercial telegraph, because all other radio contact was broken. It did not arrive in Honolulu until 8 ˝ hours later. The message never mentioned Pearl Harbor. Everyone expected the attack elsewhere.

The first Japanese planes flew over Oahu at 7:53 a.m. Sunday, December 7, 1941. Flight Commander Mitsuo Fuchida radioed the Fleet: Tora! Tora! Tora! ["tiger! Tiger! Tiger!], a signal that the American navy had been taken by surprise. The attack lasted for two hours. One battleship was sunk, another capsized, and nineteen other ships were either sunk or disabled. At Hickam Field, all but 150 airplanes were destroyed. The Japanese lost fewer than 30 planes. The raid killed 2,400 American servicemen and civilians and wounded another 1,178.

Americans had worried about espionage rather than an air attack. The planes at Hickam field had been parked wing-to-wing to more easily protect them against a ground attack. The end result was to make them an even easier target for attack from the air.

The attack on Pearl Harbor was not a complete success:

· The Japanese bombers had ignored onshore facilities and oil tanks which supported the fleet. Had they been destroyed, the surviving ships would have been forced to return to the West Coast, giving the Japanese a free hand in the South Pacific.

· American Aircraft Carriers had pulled out of port several days earlier, so they missed the invasion. They proved decisive in subsequent naval battles.

Adm. Husband E. Kimmel and his Army Counterpart, Lt. Gen. Walter C. Short were held responsible for the attack, and accused of dereliction of duty. There was talk of Court Martial of Adm. Kimmel, but he was allowed to retire from the service instead. The stigma of Pearl Harbor remained with him until his death by suicide in 1958. Later, a high school student working on a research project uncovered sufficient evidence to prove Kimmel was not at fault. Congress agreed, posthumously absolved him of responsibility, and promoted him to four-star admiral.

The next day, the Japanese attacked the Philippines, Guam, and Midway Island. With a single stroke, in a single day, they ended any debate on American neutrality. American blood had been shed on American soil.

The Japanese High Command exulted in the success of the raid, but Admiral Yamamoto, who knew Americans better than most, warned in ominous yet prophetic words: "I fear we have awakened a sleeping giant and instilled in him a terrible cause." After the attack of September 11, 2001, signs were seen reading "the sleeping giant is awake."

Roosevelt delivered his war message to Congress on December 8, 1941:

Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan…

The facts of yesterday speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions, and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.

Congress passed the War resolution with only one dissenting vote: Jeanette Rankin, a pacifist who had opposed War at any time, voted no. No one expected war with anyone but Japan, but that changed on December 11, when Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. This ostensibly was in response to the Tripartite Pact. The end result was another World War.