World War II Essay Example

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World War II

Franklin D. Roosevelt spent much time trying to help America recover from the Great Depression during his early years in office. However, Roosevelt did not overlook America’s foreign policies since he believed that the country played a significant role in the global arena (Council on Foreign Relations). Throughout the 1930s, the country continued to experience persistent economic difficulties. Coupled with isolationist tendencies among a majority of Americans, it forced Roosevelt to cut his foreign trips (Stuart 50). With the looming war in Asia and Europe, Roosevelt was able to stop America from getting involved in the conflict for quite some time. However, when Japan attacked the Pearl Harbor, America was fully drawn into the war. This essay will discuss how economic factors, issues surrounding national security, and democracy influenced America’s foreign policy that Roosevelt adopted from 1937 to 1941 (Franklin).

Roosevelt widely believed that the economic woes facing America were mainly homegrown. Roosevelt’s view contrasted sharply with his predecessor, Hoover, who held that the Great Depression was caused by international circumstances (Stuart 51). As such, Roosevelt rejected most of Hoover’s entreaties and adopted a kind of nationalism for the U.S. economy in addition to committing the country to resolving the economic depression it was facing by internal means. He devalued the American currency by delisting America from the global gold standards and failing to recognize the London Economic Conference. Roosevelt wanted to increase the dollar’s value artificially and hoped to put more money in the hands of poor citizens. Unfortunately, the move served to destabilize the global economy (Stuart 51). He recognized his fault on time and worked with both France and England in an attempt to ensure the stability of the global economy through the negotiation of commercial agreements.

Despite his initial approach to America’s foreign economic policy, Roosevelt’s internationalist leanings would soon come into play. Enacting the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act allowed Roosevelt to grant trade status to nations that had entered into trade agreements with the United States (Saltzman 131). Roosevelt went ahead and altered the relationship between America and the Soviet Union through the establishment of official ties with it. While Roosevelt banked on the hope that improved relationship between America and the U.S.S.R. would expand America’s trade opportunities and dissuade the worrying expansion of Japan’s business, the agreement ultimately could not accomplish either of the objectives. Roosevelt’s commitment to global cooperation was also demonstrated by his futile effort to have America become a member of the international court (Charles).

During the early years of his tenure, Roosevelt’s foreign policy succeeded greatly through his policy of ‘good neighborliness’ towards countries in Latin America and the Western Hemisphere. However, the ‘good neighbor’ policy was originally initiated by his predecessor and Roosevelt only followed on the initiative (Blankfield 339). Under Roosevelt’s watch, America withdrew its last troops from the Caribbean Island and repealed the Platt Amendment, in which the Cuban government had promised to acknowledge the right of the U.S. to intervene in Cuba. Moreover, America supported the resolution of the Pan-American Conference, which stipulated that there was no country, which had any right to interfere in the internal affairs and foreign affairs of other nations. Roosevelt even accepted the move by Mexico to nationalize its oil industry in 1938, seizing American assets as he rejected widespread outcry from most of the citizens for America to intervene and instead, he ordered for the development of a compensation scheme by the State Department.

Roosevelt also chose to keep a cautious eye on the events that were unfolding in Asia and Europe in the late 1930s, particularly the aggressive actions pursued by Japan, Italy, and Germany. He further sought to restrain Japan’s growing power in the Asian continent by providing support to China, though this policy faced restrictions. Earlier, Hoover’s government had agreed to Japan’s deliberate occupation of Manchuria, which was China’s territory with many minerals (Blankfield 339). Roosevelt’s administration proved it was not willing to intervene actively to oppose Japan’s aggression and, like his predecessor, Roosevelt simply did not recognize Japan’s invasion of Manchuria. Similarly, Italy’s attack on Ethiopia failed to provoke a significant response from America.

The governments of Germany and Japan took note of the failure by democracy to respond appropriately to the aggression in Ethiopia and Manchuria. Japan had an expansionist and militarist state, which was still recovering from what it considered as unfair treatment during the Great War, and was seeking regional domination. The grand strategy adopted by Japan involved being accessible to oil products and valuable raw materials in the East Asian region and setting up a royal empire, which its leaders referred to as the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” (Blankfield 341). Elsewhere, Germany had a new leader, Adolf Hitler, who assumed power in 1933 and embarked on blaming the Jews and old enemies for the woes facing his country. Hitler would speak menacingly about the need for the Germans to have more living space, which was referred to as ‘Lebensraum,’ and he also believed that the Aryan race was superior to other races. He flagrantly stated that Germany would start to adopt a re-armament initiative and repudiated the disarmament agreements of the 1920s, in which Germany was a signatory.

In this volatile environment, America adopted a policy of neutrality. This was evident when the Congress enacted five Neutrality Acts from 1935 to 1939, which forbade the country from getting involved in external wars. The Acts were mainly motivated by an invigorated American peace drive, the exposure of war racketeering of the American arms companies during the Great War, as well as the widespread belief by many American citizens that their involvement in the European conflict was futile (Blankfield 342). Roosevelt attempted to soften these laws, which were not able to distinguish the victim from the aggressor though this move met mixed achievement. He used to issue tough speeches, which was evident in his popular speech of 1937 in Chicago, where he emphatically cautioned on the importance of ‘quarantining’ aggressors. Roosevelt often proved to be unwilling to back off from the nationalist approach. Unsurprisingly, then, America quietly watched as Europe was moving closer to a full-blown war (Blankfield 342). A conflict erupted in Spain in 1936 pitting the government against Generalissimo Franco’s forces. Germany and Italy supported Franco, while America, England, and France ignored the government’s call for help (Jimenez 610).

In 1936, Hitler started attacking Europe, during which his troops entered Rhineland, which was a demilitarized region bordering Belgium, Germany, and France. Later on, Germany annexed Austria with the help of Italy and Japan. Hitler planned to attack Czechoslovakia, but Britain and France feared continent-wide war. They met Hitler and agreed to allow him to conquer Sudetenland to allow peace to reign, a move that was also approved by Roosevelt (Saltzman 133). However, Hitler defied the Munich accord and attacked Czechoslovakia, before going ahead to attack Poland and France in 1939. In response, Britain moved to declare war against Germany, and this marked the start of the World War II.

While Roosevelt sympathized with Britain and France, the Neutrality Acts and the isolationist movement in America restricted his actions. After the outbreak of aggressions in 1939, Roosevelt forced America to support Britain by supplying them all aid apart from war weapons. This strategy offered Britain psychological boost and material support and gave America time to bolster its military, which was insufficient for a full-blown war (Fowler 227). The approach also made America an active, though an implicit participant in the conflict. In the same year, Roosevelt slightly managed to revise the Neutrality Acts, which allowed its allies to buy weapons from America only through money and if they carried the weapons themselves. America and Britain signed an agreement in which America loaned Britain mothballed destroyers in exchange for access to British military bases (Fowler 227). Roosevelt enacted a lend-lease program in March 1941, which allowed Britain and its allies to continue accessing American arms supplies despite their worsening financial situation.

Hitler failed to subdue Britain through the air, which forced him to make two critical decisions. He invaded the Soviet Union and attempted to attack Britain from the seas by ordering his submarines to invade British naval ships (Blankfield 344). These two decisions drew the U.S. totally into the conflict. Roosevelt ordered the U.S. Navy to patrol the North Atlantic region as well as escort the British ships. This enabled the American navy to fire at German submarines, and by the end of 1941, America and Germany were at war.

Roosevelt s and Winston Churchill came together, and in August 1941, they developed joint objectives for the war, referred to the ‘Atlantic Charter.’ At home, Roosevelt was able to subdue the isolationist outcries and further rebuilt and re-armed America’s military (Fowler 245-246). While Roosevelt’s actions technically put America at war, he did not acknowledge the risk and often responded with elusive answers about the country being at war and ‘short of war.’ Roosevelt seemed to be a puzzling, spotty and frustrating leader as he directed America’s military readiness for war (Wendell).

The challenges which America faced during the European battle were further complicated by the deteriorating situation in the Asian continent. In 1937, the relationship further deteriorated after Japan’s invasion of China. Roosevelt offered support to China, though the neutrality laws restricted the support. His strategy was to isolate Japan politically and economically and contain the country. Japanese leaders felt constrained by the Alliance of America, Netherlands, Britain, and China, and adopted aggressive military and foreign policies openly (Fowler 245). Japan attacked southern Indochina in 1941 to protect industrial supplies that it considered necessary to preserve its military advantage and empire. Roosevelt’s response involved freezing Japanese assets in America and restricting Japan’s access to oil products.

War erupted in an unexpected way. On December 1941, Japan surprisingly attacked America at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, which was America’s important base in the Pacific region. The attack damaged America’s fleet severely but caused little devastation (Fowler 247). The Congress immediately responded by declaring war on Japan and later, Italy and Germany declared war on America. By the end of December 1941, America had fully involved itself in the war, after several years as an onlooker, but an interested party.

Finally, this essay has highlighted various economic factors, issues surrounding national security, and democracy that influenced America’s foreign policy adopted by Roosevelt from 1937 to 1941. While Roosevelt chose to be an onlooker during the looming war, his move to support Britain, coupled with Germany and Japan’s aggressive actions in the end, drew the U.S. into the war. Nonetheless, Roosevelt’s foreign policy was met with mixed success. In particular, his actions significantly contributed to the outbreak of full-blown second world war.

Works Cited

Blankfield, Bryan. «The Good Neighbor: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Rhetoric of American Power.» (2016): 319-323.

Charles A. Lindbergh, Speech in New York City, “America First,” April 23, 1941.

Council on Foreign Relations, The United States in World Affairs, 1937 (Harper & Brothers, 1938)

Fowler, Michael W. «A Brief Survey of Democracy Promotion in US Foreign Policy.» Democracy and Security 11.3 (2015): 227-247.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Speech in Chicago, “Quarantine the Aggressors,” October 5, 1937.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Speech to White House Press Conference, “The Garden Hose Speech” December 17, 1940.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, State of the Union to Congress, “Four Freedoms,” January 6, 1941.

Jimenez, Francisco J. Rodriguez. «Arguing Americanism: Franco Lobbyists, Roosevelt’s Foreign Policy, and the Spanish Civil War.» (2013): 610-615.

Saltzman, Ilai Z. «Soft Balancing as foreign policy: assessing American strategy toward Japan in the interwar period.» Foreign Policy Analysis 8.2 (2012): 131-150.

Stuart, Douglas T. Creating the national security state: A history of the law that transformed America. Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2009. Print.

Wendell Willkie, Acceptance Speech at the Republican National Convention, August 17, 1940.

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