Historical debate : 1941 – Should the United States enter the WWII?

historic debate US united states WWII world war II
Numéro 1

Learn the ropes

The isolationists...
Prior to 1941, the United States were reluctant to enter the World War II. Many Americans, called Isolationists, considered that the cost of the Great War was too high and wanted the country to focus on recovering from the Great Depression and implementing President Roosevelt’s New Deal programs. Isolationists did not want to fight an another long and costly war. As a result, the US Congress passed the Neutrality Act of 1935 which outlawed providing funds or supplies to countries at war.
...and the opponents : the interventionists
In 1939, Germany invaded Poland. Then, Germany invaded France and Belgium and attacked England, while the Nazis built concentration camps throughout Northern Europe. Germany’s aggression towards other European nations made the United States more inclined to act, in other words, to intervene. President Roosevelt was an interventionist. He created a military draft and sought money from the Congress to build new naval vessels. He also asked the Congress to allow the U. S. to provide supplies, arms, and ammunition to Europe in the Neutrality Act of 1939. Roosevelt called on the U.S. to be an “arsenal of democracy.” However, Isolationists still opposed an intervention. Charles Lindbergh and the America First Committee were the leading critics of the U.S. entering World War II and claimed that the German military was too strong to defeat.

Finally, on December 7, 1941, Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor. The United States and the Isolationists could no longer resist involvement in World War II.

Charles Lindbergh publicly supported the U.S. war effort after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and flew fifty combat missions in the Pacific Theater of World War II as a civilian consultant, though Roosevelt refused to reinstate his Air Corps colonel’s commission. In his later years, Lindbergh became a prolific prize-winning author, an international explorer, an inventor, and an environmentalist.

Why do we talk about it today?
Throughout summer 2019, France will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day and the Battle of Normandy. A great opportunity to revive the fierce debates about the American engagement in the conflict!
Numéro 2

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The idea behind the Rift is simple: for each topic of debate, we provide you with an expertise based on a pro-con approach, written by competent and legitimate experts. We want to help you make your own opinion, and guide you on first steps to civic engagement.


There can be no appeasement with ruthlessness

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Franklin D. Roosevelt

32nd President of the United States, from 1933 until his death in 1945

On National Security

Radio Address of the President, Delivered from the White House – December 29, 1940

This is not a fireside chat on war. It is a talk on national security, because the nub of the whole purpose of your President is to keep you now, and your children later, and your grandchildren much later, out of a last-ditch war for the preservation of American independence and all of the things that American independence means to you and to me and to ours.

Tonight, in the presence of a world crisis, my mind goes back eight years to a night in the midst of a domestic crisis. It was a time when the wheels of American industry were grinding to a full stop, when the whole banking system of our country had ceased to function.

The Nazi have made it clear that they intend to dominate the rest of the world

[…] We met the issue of 1933 with courage and realism.

We face this new crisis — this new threat to the security of our nation — with the same courage and realism.

Never before since Jamestown and Plymouth Rock has our American civilization been in such danger as now.

For, on September 27th, 1940, this year, by an agreement signed in Berlin, three powerful nations, two in Europe and one in Asia, joined themselves together in the threat that if the United States of America interfered with or blocked the expansion program of these three nations — a program aimed at world control — they would unite in ultimate action against the United States.

The Nazi masters of Germany have made it clear that they intend not only to dominate all life and thought in their own country, but also to enslave the whole of Europe, and then to use the resources of Europe to dominate the rest of the world.

It was only three weeks ago their leader stated this: ” There are two worlds that stand opposed to each other.” And then in defiant reply to his opponents, he said this: “Others are correct when they say: With this world we cannot ever reconcile ourselves …. I can beat any other power in the world.” So said the leader of the Nazis.

In other words, the Axis not merely admits but the Axis proclaims that there can be no ultimate peace between their philosophy of government and our philosophy of government. […] […] Some of our people like to believe that wars in Europe and in Asia are of no concern to us. But it is a matter of most vital concern to us that European and Asiatic war-makers should not gain control of the oceans which lead to this hemisphere. […] […] If Great Britain goes down, the Axis powers will control the continents of Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and the high seas — and they will be in a position to bring enormous military and naval resources against this hemisphere. It is no exaggeration to say that all of us, in all the Americas, would be living at the point of a gun — a gun loaded with explosive bullets, economic as well as military.

We should enter upon a new and terrible era in which the whole world, our hemisphere included, would be run by threats of brute force. And to survive in such a world, we would have to convert ourselves permanently into a militaristic power on the basis of war economy.

Some of us like to believe that even if (Great) Britain falls, we are still safe, because of the broad expanse of the Atlantic and of the Pacific.

But the width of those (these) oceans is not what it was in the days of clipper ships. At one point between Africa and Brazil the distance is less from Washington than it is from Washington to Denver, Colorado — five hours for the latest type of bomber. And at the North end of the Pacific Ocean America and Asia almost touch each other.

Why, even today we have planes that (which) could fly from the British Isles to New England and back again without refueling. And remember that the range of a (the) modern bomber is ever being increased. […]

Their secret emissaries are active in our own and in neighboring countries

[…] There are those who say that the Axis powers would never have any desire to attack the Western Hemisphere. That (this) is the same dangerous form of wishful thinking which has destroyed the powers of resistance of so many conquered peoples. The plain facts are that the Nazis have proclaimed, time and again, that all other races are their inferiors and therefore subject to their orders. And most important of all, the vast resources and wealth of this American Hemisphere constitute the most tempting loot in all of the round world. […] […] Their secret emissaries are active in our own and in neighboring countries. They seek to stir up suspicion and dissension to cause internal strife. They try to turn capital against labor, and vice versa. They try to reawaken long slumbering racist and religious enmities which should have no place in this country. They are active in every group that promotes intolerance. They exploit for their own ends our own natural abhorrence of war. These trouble-breeders have but one purpose. It is to divide our people, to divide them into hostile groups and to destroy our unity and shatter our will to defend ourselves.

There are also American citizens, many of then in high places, who, unwittingly in most cases, are aiding and abetting the work of these agents. I do not charge these American citizens with being foreign agents. But I do charge them with doing exactly the kind of work that the dictators want done in the United States.

These people not only believe that we can save our own skins by shutting our eyes to the fate of other nations. Some of them go much further than that. They say that we can and should become the friends and even the partners of the Axis powers. Some of them even suggest that we should imitate the methods of the dictatorships. But Americans never can and never will do that.

The experience of the past two years has proven beyond doubt that no nation can appease the Nazis. No man can tame a tiger into a kitten by stroking it. There can be no appeasement with ruthlessness. There can be no reasoning with an incendiary bomb. We know now that a nation can have peace with the Nazis only at the price of total surrender. […] […] The proposed “new order” is the very opposite of a United States of Europe or a United States of Asia. It is not a government based upon the consent of the governed. It is not a union of ordinary, self-respecting men and women to protect themselves and their freedom and their dignity from oppression. It is an unholy alliance of power and pelf to dominate and to enslave the human race.

The British people and their allies today are conducting an active war against this unholy alliance. Our own future security is greatly dependent on the outcome of that fight. Our ability to “keep out of war” is going to be affected by that outcome.

Thinking in terms of today and tomorrow, I make the direct statement to the American people that there is far less chance of the United States getting into war if we do all we can now to support the nations defending themselves against attack by the Axis than if we acquiesce in their defeat, submit tamely to an Axis victory, and wait our turn to be the object of attack in another war later on.

Democracy’s fight against world conquest is being greatly aided by the rearmament of the United States

If we are to be completely honest with ourselves, we must admit that there is risk in any course we may take. But I deeply believe that the great majority of our people agree that the course that I advocate involves the least risk now and the greatest hope for world peace in the future. […] […] Democracy’s fight against world conquest is being greatly aided, and must be more greatly aided, by the rearmament of the United States and by sending every ounce and every ton of munitions and supplies that we can possibly spare to help the defenders who are in the front lines. And it is no more unneutral for us to do that than it is for Sweden, Russia and other nations near Germany to send steel and ore and oil and other war materials into Germany every day in the week.

We are planning our own defense with the utmost urgency, and in its vast scale we must integrate the war needs of Britain and the other free nations which are resisting aggression. […] […] I have the profound conviction that the American people are now determined to put forth a mightier effort than they have ever yet made to increase our production of all the implements of defense, to meet the threat to our democratic faith.

As President of the United States I call for that national effort. I call for it in the name of this nation which we love and honor and which we are privileged and proud to serve. I call upon our people with absolute confidence that our common cause will greatly succeed.


An independent destiny for America

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Charles A. Lindbergh

American aviator, military officer, author, inventor, explorer, and environmental activist

Election Promises Should Be Kept We Lack Leadership
That Places America First

Delivered at Madison Square Garden, New York Rally Under the Auspices of the America First Committee – May 23, 1941

We are assembled here tonight because we believe in an independent destiny for America. Such a destiny does not mean that we will build a wall around our country and isolate ourselves from contact with the rest of the world. But it does mean that the future of America will not be tied to these eternal wars in Europe. It means that American boys will not be sent across the ocean to die so that England or Germany or France or Spain may dominate the other nations.

An independent American destiny means, on the one hand, that our soldiers will not have to fight everybody in the world who prefers some other system of life to ours. On the other hand, it means that we will fight anybody and everybody who attempts to interfere with our hemisphere, and that we will do so with all the resources of our nation.

We lack only a leadership that places America first

With adequate leadership we can be the strongest and most influential nation in the world. No other country has as great resources. None is as easily defended. We lack only a leadership that places America first – a leadership that tells what it means and what it says. Give us that and we will be the most powerful country in the world. Give us that and we will be so united that no one will dare to attack us.

Our country is not divided today because we fear war, or sacrifice, or because we fear anything at ail. We are divided because we are asked to fight over issues that are Europe’s and not ours – issues that Europe created by her own shortsightedness. We are divided because many of us do not wish to fight again for England’s balance of power, or for her domination of India, Mesopotamia, or Egypt, or for the Polish Corridor, or for another treaty like Versailles. We are divided because we do not want to cross an ocean to fight on foreign continents, for foreign causes, against an entire world combined against us. Many of us do not think we can impose our way of life, at the point of a machine gun, on the peoples of Germany, Russia, Italy, France and Japan. Many of us do not believe democracy can be spread in such a manner. We believe that we are more likely to lose it at home than to spread it abroad by prolonging this war and sending millions of our soldiers to death in Europe and Asia. Democracy is not a quality that can be imposed by war. The attempt to do so has always met with failure. Democracy can spring only from within a nation itself, only from the hearts and minds of the people. It can be spread abroad by example, but never by force. The strength of a democracy lies in the satisfaction of its own people. Its influence lies in making others wish to copy it. If we cannot make other nations wish to copy our American system of government, we cannot force them to copy it by going to war.

There are many interventionists who actually believe that by going to war we can strengthen democracy throughout the world, and with it all the civilized virtues which we in this country support. Those people overlook our failure in the last war “to make the world safe for democracy.” They overlook the persecution and the intolerance which followed that war in Europe. They do not seem to realize that the elements they dislike in Germany lie beneath the surface of every nation; that they are here in America just as they are in Europe, and that nothing is as likely to bring them out as war – especially a prolonged war.

And here I address a plea to any interventionists who may be listening to me tonight. I ask them to consider what a prolonged war will bring. I ask them to consider what the last war brought to Europe – to Russia, to Italy, to Germany and now to France and England and even the smaller countries. I ask them to remember that we in America returned from that war with the loss of relatively few soldiers, but that now we face a war in which our losses are likely to run into the millions and in which victory itself is doubtful. I ask them to consider whether democracy, tolerance and our American way of life are likely to survive in such a struggle. Or may we not find conditions as bad or worse in America.

That will require us to cross two oceans and to invade nations with a far greater population than ours

It is all very well to shout for war, to say that aggression must be stopped, that our ideals of democracy must be preserved all over the world. But when the shouting is over, then we will be faced with the reality of war. Someone must lay plans for invading Germany, for invading Japan, for invading possibly Russia, France, Italy and Spain as well. Someone must do the fighting; someone the dying. When we turn from sentiment and emotion to reality and action, the task we face is staggering. We find ourselves unprepared for war, about to enter an action that will require us to cross two oceans and to invade nations with a far greater population than ours, nations with armies that have been trained for years, armies that have been hardened by generations of warfare, armies that are larger now than ours can ever be. We find ourselves in a position where we would have to force landings on hostile coasts against the prepared positions of the strongest military powers in the world.

Democracy is not likely to survive a conflict such as this will bring. Does any one think that freedom can exist even in America if we are forced into such a war? The United States is a nation of mixed races, religions and beliefs. We came from every part of Europe and from every portion of the earth. Here, in this country, we have learned to live peacefully together. Here we have developed a racial tolerance such as the world has never known before. Here we have developed a civilization in many ways never previously approached. Why must ail this be jeopardized by injecting the wars and the hatreds of Europe into our midst? Why, in this second century of our national existence, must we be confronted with the quarrels of the old world that our forefathers left behind when they settled in this country? It is to answer these questions, it is to oppose intervention in this war, it is to preserve our American way of life, that you and I have assembled here tonight.

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