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The Depression in the United States During World War II

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Just before Roosevelt's second term was well under way, his domestic program was overshadowed by a new risk little noted by average Americans, the expansionist designs of one-party regimes in Japan, Italy and Germany. In 1931 Japan invaded Manchuria and crushed Chinese resistance, a year later the Japanese set up the puppet state of Manchukuo. Italy, having to give up to fascism, enlarged its boundaries in Libya and in 1935 attacked Ethiopia. Germany, where Adolf Hitler had organized the National Socialist Party and stoped the reins of government in 1933, reoccupied the Rhineland and undertook large-scale rearmament.

As the real nature of totalitarianism became clear, and as Germany, Italy and Japan continued their violence, American apprehension fueled isolationist sentiment. In 1938, after Hitler had incorporated Austria into the German Reich, his demands for the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia made war seem possible at any moment in Europe. The United States, suprised by the failure of the crusade for democracy in World War I, announced that in no circumstances could any country involved in the conflict look to it for aid. Neutrality legislation, enacted slowly from 1935 to 1937, banned trade with or credit to any of the warring nations. The objective was to prevent, at almost any cost, the involvement of the United States in a non-American war.

With the Nazi assault on Poland in 1939 and the outbreak of World War II, isolationist sentiment increased, even though Americans were far from neutral in their feelings about world events. Public sentiment clearly favored the victims of Hitler's aggression and supported the Allied powers that stood in opposition to German growth. Under the circumstances, however, Roosevelt could only wait until public opinion regarding U.S. involvement was changed by events.

With the fall of France and the air war against Britain in 1940, the debate intensified between those who favored aiding the democracies and the isolationists, organized around the America First Committee, whose support ranged from Midwestern conservatives to left-leaning pacifists. In the end, the interventionist argument won a protracted public debate, aided in large measure by the work of the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies.

The United States joined Canada in a Mutual Board of Defense, and aligned with the Latin American republics in extending collective protection to the nations in the Western Hemisphere. Congress, confronted with the rising crisis, voted huge sums for rearmament, and in September 1940 passed the first peacetime draft bill ever enacted in the United States although by a margin of one vote in the House of Representatives. In early 1941 Congress approved the Lend Lease Program, which enabled President Roosevelt to relocate arms and equipment to any deemed critically to the defense of the United States. Total Lend Lease aid by war's end amounted to more than $50,000 million.

The 1940 presidential election campaign showed that the isolationists, while vocal commanded relatively few followers nationally. Roosevelt's Republican opponent, Wendell Wilkie, lacked a forceful issue since he supported the president's foreign policy, and also agreed with a large part of Roosevelt's domestic program. Thus the November election yielded another majority for Roosevelt. For the first time in U.S. history, a president was elected to a third term.

While most Americans anxiously watched the course of the European war, pressure mounted in Asia. Taking advantage of an opportunity to improve its strategic position, Japan boldly announced a "new order" in which it would exercise power over all of the Pacific. Battling for its survival against Nazi Germany, Britain was unable to resist, retreating from Shanghai and temporarily closing the Burma Road. In the summer of 1940, Japan won permission from the weak government in France to use airfields in Indochina. By September the Japanese had joined the Rome-Berlin Axis. As a countermove, the United States forced a restriction on export of scrap iron to Japan.

It seemed that the Japanese might turn southward toward the oil, tin and rubber of British Malaya and the Dutch East Indies. In July 1941 the Japanese occupied the remainder of Indochina; the United States, in response, froze Japanese resources.

General Hideki Tojo became prime minister of Japan in October 1941. In mid-November, he sent a special envoy to the United States to meet with Secretary of State Cordell Hull. Among other things, Japan demanded that the U.S. release Japanese resources

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