Roosevelt and Peace, 1933-35 | The U.S. Economy and Political Opinion, 1936-37 | Frustrations, Jews, and Joe Louis, 1937-38 | Increasing Defense Concerns, 1938-39 | Debating Intervention, September 1939 to October 1940
In a message to Congress on May 16, 1933, a little more than two months after taking office, President Roosevelt spoke of savings through disarmament. Arms competitivenss, he said "...more than any other factor today is responsible for governmental deficits and threatened bankruptcy." He said that, "the way to disarm is to disarm" and he called on nations to scrap all offensive weapons and to pledge not to send "any armed force of whasoever nature across its own borders. On May 17, Hitler responded, calling Roosevelt's proposal "a ray of comfort for all who wish to co-opeatea in the mainenance of peace."
By the year 1935, Britain was announcing an increase in armaments and Hitler said Germany was rearming in response to the failure of other European powers to disarm. And, after a lot of talk, in October, 1935, Italy invaded Ethiopia.
In the United States, 1935 was a year with much attention given to re-examinations of America's entry into World War I. A best-selling book by Walter Millis, Road to War, was giving Americans a new vision about World War I. Some were saying that Americans had been "saps" or "suckers," that the atrocity stories during the war had been British propaganda, that Germany had not been as guilty as most American thought in 1917, and that Germany had been treated unfairly at the Paris Peace Conference. Some were claiming that the United States had gone to war not because of German submarines or the rights of neutrals but because of a few greedy capitalists. And some people were calling for assurances that their country would not take itself into another war in Europe.
The leading war resisters were members of the United States Senate. Among them was the cantankerous Gerald P. Nye of North Dakota, a fighter for the farmer against the interests of the big financial interests, a progressive Republican who chaired a committee investigating the munitions industry, described by some as the "merchants of death." Nye's committee dramatized points that he and others wanted to make: that the arms industry had made huge profits, had bribed some politicians and had evaded paying taxes. Nye and others in the Senate were opposed to the United States going to war again in Europe. They pushed for legislation prohibiting the export of arms to any power at war and authorizing the president to prohibit people from traveling on the ships of nations at war, and their bill, the Neutrality Act of 1935, passed in both the Senate and the House of Representatives and was signed into law by President Roosevelt on August 31. The Bill was in tune with public opinion – many Americans believing that the United States should not get involved in Europe's troubles.
It was more of the isolationism that had kept the United States out of the League of Nations. The idea of preventing war by being involved with allies in a readiness to punish aggression was not popular. The idea that pacifism could encourage aggression was dismissed on the grounds that it was not America's business to be involved in far away Europe or Asia in deterring aggression.
Following Italy's invasion of Ethiopia on October 3, 1935, Roosevelt declared the United States neutral and invoked the Neutrality Act to place a blanket ban on all weapons shipments to Italy.
Roosevelt was ahead of some of his critics in his lack of admiration for Mussolini. Roosevelt saw Mussolini as partly buffoon. Responding to a photo of Mussolini goose-stepping, he commented: "It's wonderful what middle-aged men can do when driven to extremes." [note]
Many failed to see Hitler or Mussolini as much of a threat. Many saw Hitler as an anti-Communist and Mussolini as having saved Italy from communism. And there were those who found little wrong in Mussolini sending his troops and airforce into Ethiopia. Representing this latter view was one of Roosevelt's critics, Henry Luce, publisher of Time, Life and Fortune magazines. Luce was a fervent anti-Communist. He had devoted his July 1934 issue of Fortune magazine to praising Mussolini. He might have tempered his admiration for Mussolini with some criticism, but in 1935 his magazine, Time, described Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia as a "civilizing mission" and it ridiculed the Ethiopians. [note] Luce was no critic of the white man's mission to civilize the colored peoples of the world.
Following the trade sanctions issue against Italy that was a crisis discussion in the League of Nations in November, the Neutrality Act became irrelevant insofar as merchants in the United States would continue sending to Italy the materials that Italians needed to conduct their aggression.
Copyright © 1998-2013 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.