March 5, 2024
World War II - Causes of US Involvement

World War II – Causes of US Involvement

Following World War I, the United States adopted an isolationist stance. Starting in 1935, Congress even passed various neutrality acts to enforce the will against foreign entanglement. But by December of 1941, President Roosevelt’s formal declaration of war made this legislation irrelevant.

Although America attempted isolationism, European and Asian affairs brought global tension that eventually hit the country’s traditional allies. An aim of World War I had been “to make the world safe for democracy”, but democracy in the 1930s was increasingly endangered. The roots of World War II lay in the totalitarian leaders of Asia and Europe and their agendas for expansion.

Totalitarianism emerged in the Soviet Union, Italy, Spain, and Germany. The fascist leaders had expansionist goals and soon crushed neighboring societies. Italy invaded Ethiopia and established Italian East Africa. Meanwhile, Japan invaded Manchuria, seized Chinese land, and occupied French possessions in Southeast Asia.

In 1938 Europe, the war officially began when Germany’s Adolf Hitler invaded Austria and took Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland, which was home to 3.5 million ethnic Germans. Hitler claimed he was only “restoring rightful boundaries”, since Germany had lost territory in World War I. But Hitler had ideas of widespread domination. In 1939 he and Mussolini created the Rome-Berlin Axis alliance, a military agreement designed to last ten years. Japan entered the pact later that year. Hitler had the confidence to invade Poland in 1939. Poland’s allies, England and France, therefore declared war on Germany. America’s traditional allies were at war.

Initially, President Franklin Roosevelt limited his aid to arms sales, which were restricted in a neutrality act. But Hitler’s invasions continued. He took Denmark, Norway, and Holland, and the Belgian king surrendered his army shortly thereafter. And in June of 1940, France succumbed to Nazi forces. The Axis alliance now dominated Europe from the North Cape of Africa to the Pyrenees. Great Britain’s Winston Churchill vowed to continue the battle for democracy.

Churchill soon needed military aid, and Roosevelt declared that the United States must become “the great arsenal of democracy”. By 1941, he officially ended the country’s isolationist stance by passing the Lend Lease Act, which lifted restrictions on supporting foreign troops with defense gear; the Act first appropriated $7 billion to lend or lease supplies to any countries the president designated. President Roosevelt also started to call US National Guard members to war training.

Next, the Americans built a base in Greenland. Then, stationed aboard warships near Newfoundland, Roosevelt and Churchill issued the Atlantic Charter in June of 1941. Although the US had not officially entered the war, the Atlantic Charter presented the two countries’ goals for a war against fascism. It included their disinterest in acquiring new territories through the war. Shortly thereafter, the US became involved in the years- long Battle of the Atlantic. The United States officially entered World War II in December of 1941. Japanese military leaders, led by Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, attacked a US naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The Japanese aimed to destroy the US fleet docked in the Pacific, thus leaving the Japanese free to pursue oil mines in the region. A series of aerial attacks by 361 airplanes succeeded in compromising eight important warships. The air attacks also killed more than 2,300 people. The following day, President Roosevelt asked Congress for a declaration of war against Japan. Congress obliged. By the time of this official declaration, there were battles to fight on many fronts, but “Remember Pearl Harbor!” became a rally cry for the war.