The first World War and American intervention therein marked an ominous turning point in the history of the United States and of the world.
Those who can remember "the good old days" before 1914 inevitably look back to those times with a very definite and justifiable feeling of nostalgia. There was no income tax before 1913, and that levied in the early days after the amendment was adopted was little more than nominal. All kinds of taxes were relatively low. We had only a token national debt of around a billion dollars, which could have been paid off in a year without causing even a ripple in national finance. The total Federal budget in 1913 was $724,512,000, just about one per cent of the present astronomical budget.
Ours was a libertarian country in which there was little or no witch-hunting and few of the symptoms and operations of the police state which have been developing here so drastically during the last decade. Not until our intervention in the first World War had there been sufficient invasions of individual liberties to call forth the formation of special groups and organizations to protect our civil rights. The Supreme Court could still be relied on to uphold the Constitution and safeguard the civil liberties of individual citizens....
In our own country, the traditional American foreign 'policy of benign neutrality, and
the wise exhortations of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams and
Henry Clay to avoid entangling alliances and to shun foreign quarrels were still accorded
respect in the highest councils of state.
Unfortunately, there are relatively few persons today who can recall those happy times. In his devastatingly prophetic book. Nineteen Eighty-Four, (2) George Orwell points out that one reason why it is possible for those in authority to maintain the barbarities of the police state is that nobody is able to recall the many blessings of the period which preceded that type of society. In a general way this is also true of the peoples of the Western world today.
The great majority of them have known only a world ravaged by war, depressions, international intrigues and meddling, vast debts and crushing taxation, the encroachments of the police state, and the control of public opinion and government by ruthless and irresponsible propaganda. A major reason why there is no revolt against such a state of society as that in which we are living today is that many have come to accept it as a normal matter of course, having known nothing else during their lifetimes....
He based his appeal on the argument that this move would help to keep the United States at peace. His words on the subject were:
"Let no group assume the exclusive label of the "peace bloc." We all belong to it. ... I give you my deep and unalterable conviction, based on years of experience as a worker in the field of international peace, that by the repeal of the embargo the United States will more probably remain at peace than if the law remains as it stands today. . . . Our acts must be guided by one single, hardheaded thought of ”keeping America out of the war."
This statement was made after the President had opened up a secret correspondence
with Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty and later Prime Minister in the
British government. What has been revealed of this correspondence, even in Churchill's own memoirs, inspires considerable doubt as to whether its main purpose was keeping America out of the war.
Roosevelt kept up his pose as the devoted champion of peace even after the fall of
France, when Great Britain was committed to a war which, given the balance of power in manpower and industrial resources, it could not hope to win without the involvement of other great powers, such as the United States and the Soviet Union. The President's pledges of pursuing a policy designed to keep the United States at peace reached a shrill crescendo during the last days of the 1940 campaign.
Mr. Roosevelt said at Boston on October 30: "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."
The same thought was expressed in a speech at Brooklyn on November 1: "I am
fighting to keep our people out of foreign wars. And I will keep on fighting."
The President told his audience at Rochester, New York, on November 2: "Your
national government ... is equally a government of peace-a government that intends to retain peace for the American people."
On the same day the voters of Buffalo were assured: "Your President says this country is not going to war."
And he declared at Cleveland on November 3: "The first purpose of our foreign policy is to keep our country out of war."
So much for presidential words. What about presidential actions? American
involvement in war with Germany was preceded by a long series of steps, not one of
which could reasonably be represented as conducive to the achievement of the
President's professed ideal of keeping the United States out of foreign wars. The
more important of these steps may be briefly stated as follows:
1. The exchange of American destroyers for British bases in the Caribbean and in
Newfoundland in September, 1940.
This was a clear departure from the requirements of neutrality and was also a violation of some specific American laws. Indeed, a conference of top government lawyers at the time decided that the destroyer deal put this-country into the war, legally and morally.
2. The enactment of the Lend-Lease Act in March, 1941.
In complete contradiction of the wording and intent of the Neutrality Act, which
remained on the statute books, this made the United States an unlimited partner in the economic war against the Axis Powers all over the world.
3. The secret American-British staff talks in Washington in January-March, 1941.
Extraordinary care was taken to conceal not only the contents of these talks but the very fact that they were taking place from the knowledge of Congress. At the time when administration spokesmen were offering assurances that there were no warlike implications in the Lend-Lease Act, this staff conference used the revealing phrase, "when the United States becomes involved in war with Germany."
4. The inauguration of so-called naval patrols, the purpose of which was to report the presence of German submarines to British warships, in the Atlantic in April, 1941
5. The dispatch of American laborers to Northern Ireland to build a naval base.
obviously with the needs of an American expeditionary force in mind.
6. The occupation of Iceland by American troops in July, 1941.
This was going rather far afield for a government which professed as its main concern the keeping of the United States out of foreign wars.
7. The Atlantic Conference of Roosevelt and Churchill, August 9-12,1941
Besides committing America as a partner in a virtual declaration of war aims, this
conference considered the presentation of an ultimatum to Japan and the occupation of the Cape Verde Islands, a Portuguese possession, by United States troops.
8. The orders to American warships to shoot at sight at German submarines, formally
announced on September 1 1 .
The beginning of actual hostilities may be dated from this time rather than from the German declaration of war, which followed Pearl Harbor.
9. The authorization for the arming of merchant ships and the sending of these ships into war zones in November, 1941.
10. The freezing of Japanese assets in the United States on July 25,1941.
This step, which was followed by similar action on the part of Great Britain and the Netherlands East Indies, amounted to a commercial blockade of Japan. The war-making potentialities of this decision had been recognized by Roosevelt himself shortly before it was taken. Addressing a delegation and explaining why oil exports to Japan had not been stopped previously, he said:
"It was very essential, from our own selfish point of view of defense, to prevent a war from starting in the South Pacific. So our foreign policy was trying to stop a war from breaking out down there. . . . Now, if we cut the oil off, they [the Japanese] probably would have gone down to the Netherlands East Indies a year ago, and we would have had war."(l)
11. When the Japanese Prime Minister, Prince Fumimaro Konoye, appealed for a
personal meeting with Roosevelt to discuss an amicable settlement in the Pacific, this appeal was rejected, despite the strong favorable recommendations of the American ambassador to Japan, Joseph C. Grew.
12. Final step on the road to war in the Pacific was Secretary of State Hull's note to the
Japanese government of November 26. Before sending this communication Hull had
considered proposing a compromise formula which would have relaxed the blockade of
Japan in return for Japanese withdrawal from southern Indochina and a limitation of
Japanese forces in northern Indochina.
However, Hull dropped this idea under pressure from British and Chinese sources. He
dispatched a veritable ultimatum on November 26, which demanded unconditional
Japanese withdrawal from China and from Indochina and insisted that there should be
"no support of any government in China other than the National Government [Chiang
Kai-shek]." Hull admitted that this note took Japanese- American relations out of the
realm of diplomacy and placed them in the hands of the military authorities. The negative
Japanese reply to this note was delivered almost simultaneously with the attack on Pearl
Harbor. There was a strange and as yet unexplained failure to prepare for this attack by
giving General Short and Admiral Kimmel, commanders on the spot, a clear picture of
the imminent danger. As Secretary of War Stimson explained the American policy, it was
to maneuver the Japanese into firing the first shot, and it may have been feared that
openly precautionary and defensive moves on the part of Kimmel and Short would scare
off the impending attack by the Japanese task force which was known to be on its way to
some American outpost.
Here is the factual record of the presidential words and the presidential deeds. No
convinced believer in American nonintervention in wars outside this hemisphere could
have given the American people more specific promises than Roosevelt gave during the,
campaign of 1940. And it is hard to see how any President, given the constitutional
limitations of the office, could have done more to precipitate the United States into war
with Germany and Japan than Roosevelt accomplished during the fifteen months
between, the destroyer-for-bases deal and the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Former Congresswoman Clare Boothe Luce found the right expression when she
charged Roosevelt with having lied us into war. Even a sympathizer with Roosevelt's
policies, Professor Thomas A. Bailey, in his book The Man in the Street, admits the
charge of deception, but tries to justify it on the following grounds:
"Franklin Roosevelt repeatedly deceived the American people during the period
before Pearl Harbor. ... He was like the physician who must tell the patient lies for the
patient's own good. . . . The country was overwhelmingly ' non-interventionist to the very
day of Pearl Harbor, and an overt attempt to lead the people into war would have resulted
in certain failure and an almost certain ousting of Roosevelt in 1940, with a complete
defeat of his ultimate aims. "(2)
Professor Bailey continues his apologetics with the following argument, which leaves
very little indeed of the historical American conception of a government responsible to
the people and morally obligated to abide by the popular will:
"A president who cannot entrust the people with the truth betrays a certain lack of
faith in the basic tenets of democracy. But because the masses are notoriously
shortsighted and generally cannot see danger until it is at their throats, our statesmen are
forced to deceive them into an awareness of their own long-run interests. This is clearly
what Roosevelt had to do, and who shall say that posterity will not thank him for it? (3)
Presidential pledges to "keep our country out of war," with which Roosevelt was so
profuse in the summer and autumn of 1940, could reasonably be regarded as canceled by
some new development in the international situation involving a real and urgent threat to
the security of the United States and the Western Hemisphere.
But there was no such new development to justify Roosevelt's moves along the road to
war in 1941. The British Isles were not invaded in 1940, at the height of Hitler's military
success on the Continent. They were much more secure against invasion in 1941.
Contrast the scare predictions of Secretary Stimson, Secretary Knox, and General
Marshall, about the impending invasion of Britain in the first months of 1941, with the
testimony of Winston Churchill, as set down in his memoirs: "I did not regard invasion as
a serious danger in April, 1941, since proper preparations had been made against it."
Moreover, both the American and British governments knew at this time that Hitler
was contemplating an early attack upon the Soviet Union. Such an attack was bound to
swallow up much the greater part of Germany's military resources.
It is with this background that one must judge the sincerity and realism of Roosevelt's
alarmist speech of May 27, 1941, with its assertion: "The war is approaching the brink of
the western hemisphere itself. It is coming very close to home." The President spoke of
the Nazi "book of world conquest" and declared there was a Nazi plan to treat the Latin
American countries as they had treated the Balkans. Then Canada and the United States
would be strangled.
Not a single serious bit of evidence in proof of these sensational allegations has ever
been found, not even when the archives of the Nazi government were at the disposal of
the victorious powers. The threat to the security of Great Britain was less serious in 1941
than it was in 1940. There is no concrete evidence of Nazi intention to invade the
American hemisphere in either year, or at any predictable period.
One is left, therefore, with the inescapable conclusion that the promises to "keep
America out of foreign wars" was a deliberate hoax on the American people, perpetrated
for the purpose of insuring Roosevelt's re-election and thereby enabling him to proceed
with his plan of gradually edging the United States into war. What aim was this
involvement in global war supposed to achieve?
II. The War Aims Proclaimed by Roosevelt-
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