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Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Inevitable War, Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

No event in the 20th century was more significant than World War II. Although it is more accurate to describe the war as a series of, or aggregate of, numerous vents, rather than a single event, the overarching war did more to shape the course of American and global history than any other event in recent history. Those things that might at first seem comparably significant or influential –from the first moon landing to the U.S. Civil Rights movement to the fall of the Berlin Wall to the development of the Internet- are all actually consequentes, in one form or another, of the Second World War. The simplistic view holds that then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt was uncertain about entry into the war before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and faced domestic opposition that underpinned this uncertainty until the very moment that the U.S. was attacked on its own soil. The facts of history are much more complicated, however; while Roosevelt may have delayed entry into the war for longer than he would have liked, it was all but inevitable even before the attack on Pearl Harbor that the U.S. would enter the war. If the Japanese had not attacked the Pearl Harbor Naval Base on December 7, 1941, the U.S. would likely still have entered the war in a matter of months.

The seeds of U.S. involvement in World War II were planted years earlier; in some ways, America’s domestic issues that existed or developed before the war in Europe even began were responsible, at least in part, for Roosevelt’s eventual decision to join the fray. The recession that began in the late 1920s and lingered well into the 1930s had the effect of reshaping the course of political and economic history not only in the United States, but in regions around the world. The slumping German economy, still weighed down by the lingering effects of reparations from the earlier world war, was primed and ready for a political firebrand like Adolf Hitler (Gullan, 1998). Hitler’s jingoistic nationalism greatly appealed to a weary German populace that had long been carrying the burden of economic and political embarrassment. Hitler preached a message of German superiority that spurred a national reassertion of German pride and would eventually lead to that nation attacking its neighbors.

Great Britain was also ensnared in a post-World War I economic slump, as it struggled to regain its footing as the world’s imperial superpower (McCulloch, 2010). Like Germany, England was hobbled by high unemployment and debt after the First World War, and could do little but watch as the United States emerged as the world’s new economic and financial leader in the years before the Great Depression. As the full effects of the Great Depression began to mount, the U.S., England, Germany, and other nations all slid closer to the inevitable conflicts that would flare up into the Second World War. Despite the military conflagration that spread across Europe in the 1930s, however, the United States remained on the sidelines in the first years of the war. Despite this late entry into the war, the same economic pressures that underpinned the war in Europe and parts of Asia were being felt in the U.S. as unemployment continued to climb (Schuesller, 2010). The combination of domestic problems along with the mounting concerns over the war in Europe convinced Roosevelt that the U.S. should, at the very least, take actions to support its allies overseas (Rofe, 2012). This support set the groundwork for the eventual entry of the U.S. into the war.

As the economic engine of military preparations and engagements spurred the German economy and engaged the people of Germany in a growing nationalistic fervor, Hitler became increasingly confident in his goals of annexing much of the European continent. Concurrent with the war in Europe, the nation of Japan was advancing on military targets in the Pacific, and taking over parts of Korea and other territories. Back in the U.S., President Roosevelt was well aware of the seriousness of the global situation, and began to offer direct and indirect military support for Great Britain (Kimball, 2004). Although the U.S. had made no formal declaration of war, the U.S. Navy offered support in the form of warships to British supply ships in the Atlantic, and exchanged fire with German U-boats and other vessels on more than one occasion (Kimball). Roosevelt also took action to block the supply of oil to the island of Japan, cutting off the majority of that nation’s fuel supplies (Gullan). In hindsight, such actions on the part of the U.S. could be used to support the argument that the U.S. had already entered the war, and had simply not yet formally announced its involvement.

Roosevelt initially faced strong domestic opposition to the idea of the U.S. entering the war (Schuessler). His decisions to incrementally increase U.S. involvement in the war by supporting British ships and disrupting Japanese trade were, it appears, the choices of a President who was already committed to war yet felt bound by the reality of the domestic political landscape. As the war dragged on, though, a number of factors combined to force a shift in the domestic views on the war, making it likely that the majority of Americans would have supported eventual entry into the war even if the Japanese had not attacked Pearl Harbor. Among the most significant of these factors was the effect of the war on the U.S. economy. As the U.S. ramped up production of weaponry, ships and planes, and offered support to Britain and Russia through the lend-lease program, the unemployment rate in the U.S. dropped dramatically (Schuessler). This shift in the economy, coupled with the availability of millions of new jobs directly related to military preparedness and war, helped bolster the Roosevelt administration as it took steps towards full-fledged U.S. involvement in the war.

By 1941 President Roosevelt was convinced of the necessity of intervening in the Pacific, and plans were being developed to attack Japanese interests (Kimball). Concurrent to these plans, increasing pressure from Great Britain and other European allies was making it almost inevitable that the U.S. would enter the war. Some historians have asserted that Roosevelt was aware in advance that the Japanese were planning to attack Pearl Harbor, and that he allowed the attack to happen in order to ensure that the resulting response from angry Americans would support U.S. entry into the war (Schuessler). Such a scenario seems unlikely, if for no other reason than the fact that the U.S. could have intercepted such an attack in the Pacific before the Japanese reached Pearl Harbor while still using the Japanese intention to attack as predication for U.S. involvement. What seems more likely, based on the facts of history, is that the U.S. would have entered the war by 1942 even if the Japanese had not attacked Pearl Harbor. By 1941 the U.S. was more or less fully engaged in the war, having traded fire with the Germans, engaged in naval operations in the Atlantic and the Pacific, and developed plans of attack against the Germans and the Japanese. The events of December 7, 1941 may have hastened the official U.S. entry into the war, but there is little doubt that the U.S. could not have avoided going to war whether or not Pearl Harbor had been attacked.

References

Gullan, H. I. (1998). Expectations of Infamy: Roosevelt and Marshall Prepare for War, 1938-41. Presidential Studies Quarterly, 28(3), 510-522.

Kimball, W. F. (2004). Franklin D. Roosevelt and World War II. Presidential Studies Quarterly, 34(1), 83-99.

McCulloch, T. (2010). FDR as founding father of the transatlantic alliance: The ‘Roosevelt doctrine’ of January 1936. Journal of Transatlantic Studies, 8(3), 224-235.

Rofe, J. S. (2012). Pre-war Post-war Planning: The Phoney War, the Roosevelt Administration, and the Case of the Advisory Committee on Problems of Foreign Relations. Diplomacy & Statecraft, 23(2), 254-279.

Schuessler, J. M. (2010). The Deception Dividend: FDR’s Undeclared War. International Security, 34(4).

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