It might be interesting to recall that in December 1941, after Japan declared
war on the US, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was still reluctant to
declare the war on Germany. It was only after the angry Hitler, prompted by his
foreign minister Ribbentrop, had declared war on US that Roosevelt was left with
no choice but to reciprocate.
This characteristic hesitation to take
decisive steps was an integral part of Roosevelt’s slow and deliberate foreign
policy until Pearl Harbor, and it had caused a few major headaches for Winston
Roosevelt was well aware of the danger Hitler posed to the
entire free world, and it was to stop his progress that he wanted to help
England as much as possible. But he was slow taking steps in this direction,
being also well aware of the views, fears and arguments of his bitter
He feared to repeat the mistake made by Woodrow Wilson in
1917, and would never take any risky steps that could affect his standing and
When he was elected in 1933, he could do no wrong. America
supported most of his programs.
However toward the late Thirties he was
drawing fire from all those who criticized heavy government spending, and was
even accused of destroying “the American way of life,” just as Barack Obama is
accused today of destroying American medicine.
He also remembered his
election appeal, made before his second election: “We shun political commitments
which might entangle us in foreign wars.We seek to isolate ourselves
completely from war.”
Roosevelt, who continued his New Deal and numerous
economic and industrial projects, knew that this, and hardly anything else, was
what American people wanted.
Consequently Congress passed the “Neutrality
Act.” Roosevelt signed this act, but immediately afterwards spoke against it,
since it crippled his plans.
In one of his public addresses he reminded
his listeners that England was not fighting alone, but had a firm support of
Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the entire British
However, at Britain’s most crucial hour, in November, 1941, when
Churchill appealed for immediate aid, Roosevelt found himself torn again between
the arguments of the traditional American isolationists, still sharing the
bitter memories of World War I, and a growing movement of interventionists full
of admiration for the courageous British defense under heavy bombardment and
desiring to extended assistance to the beleaguered island.
Hemingway wrote in 1935, two years after Hitler came to power: “Of the hell
broth that is brewing in Europe we have no need to drink. We were fools to be
sucked once in a European war.”
Stickers on millions of American cars
declared: “Keep US out of war!” Letters, postcards, declarations written by
hundreds of thousands of Americans wrote to their senators and congressmen
against any participation in the European war.
Most Americans believed
that although a few companies benefited from WW1 financially, the nation
suffered a total loss. Over fifty thousand young men had lost their lives, and
many suffered lasting injuries. The loans given to the Allies were never
“We must be ready to defend America,” the non-interventionists
said, “but never be fools again.” The war in Europe, they believed, was an
integral part of European history, their continued continental quarrels which
were hardly worthy of any American specific interest.
non-interventionists enjoyed massive support from various committees, like that
of General Wood, the founder of “America’s First Committee,” as well as from the
much-cherished American hero, Col. Charles Lindbergh.
the publisher of The Chicago Tribune, enlisted a large section of American press
in non-intervenionist campaign.
They were supported by a large net of
massive native movements, like that of the fascist “Silver Shirts,” the Silver
Legion of America, whose founder, William Dudley Pelley, threatened to march on
Washington to take over the country and get rid of all those Jews that opted for
the war. Multiple native groups like Vindicators and other associations and
isolationist groups were led by the top anti-Semite Charles Coughlin, an ally of
Henry Ford who was congratulated for his anti-Semitism by Hitler in his book
They thought that the Third Reich did not pose a threat to
America and might be allowed to keep Central and East Europe and even seek
Hitler’s Lebensraum, if one day he succeeded to defeat the Soviet Union to the
ultimate benefit of all mankind.
THERE WAS constant, vicious and
well-paid German and Nazi propaganda against any American intervention in
European affairs. The British premier, Neville Chamberlain, must have been aware
of this situation when he remarked in 1938: “To count on nothing from America
except words.” On April 3 1940, the US House of Appropriations Committee
slashed, not increased, Roosevelt’s proposal to increase military spending by 10
percent. It was only after the German blitz in France succeeded and Paris fell
that on May 16, Roosevelt got $1.58 billion in the new military
At the time when he celebrated his third election victory
in November, 1941, England suffered under a terrible blitz, more than 30,000
Britons had been killed in German raids, half of them in London.
of houses and most important landmarks were destroyed. The only really aid which
Roosevelt had offered Britain so far, and this after prolonged and painful
negotiations, were several dozen bombers and 50 old destroyers. This was offered
after Britain surrendered to the US her bases in the Carribean and Western
The deal was most favorable for American security and presented
to the public and Congress as such.
Churchill was convinced that once
Roosevelt was re-elected for the third time, he would be able to negotiate his
promises of more serious aid and eventually even enter the war. Britain not only
needed armaments, but was already in great financial difficulties. The British
Treasury borrowed gold from the Belgian government in exile, now in London, to
make the necessary purchases abroad. Huge credit was needed, as soon as
But Roosevelt did not even answer Churchill’s warm election
congratulations. Almost a month passed in complete silence. He wrote another
letter, one of the most difficult in his life; he didn’t warn or beg, just
frankly described Britain’s very difficult situation. But Roosevelt was still
making up his mind.
The “Life” noted that “Americans had been waiting for
a full month since the election day, to be given marching orders, to be clearly
told what the sacrifices are which all of them must make.”
not to be hurried. He took his time and was carefully considering the entire
The general atmosphere in the US was changing rapidly to the
British advantage. British propaganda and the stories of her heroism published
in American press by its own correspondents deeply moved the public. The former
anti-British mood, distant memories of the American independence struggle, were
Liberals, intellectuals, most prominent journalists
understood the danger of Nazism and fascism spreading across the entire
civilized world. Hollywood (including many Jewish producers) played a major role
in producing films revealing Nazi crimes.
Stories of Nazi cruelty in
occupied countries and the concentration camps helped Americans understand the
threat posed by an ultimate German victory.
CHURCHILL’S LETTER to
Roosevelt, delivered on December 7, 1941, was very frank. In it Churchill said
that if Britain was to survive and keep fighting, it would need massive amounts
of American aid, and as soon as possible. The president was upset by this blunt
statement and resented the fact that an attempt was being made to force his
hand. He knew that American industry was still hardly geared for a major war
effort – in November 1941, alone 400,000 new cars found customers and many
industrialists spurned offers to produce more arms. The army was weak and
It took him some time to decide on the Land- Lease plan and
additional anti-German steps: the occupation of Iceland and the American
protection of the Atlantic convoys.
But he finally addressed the public,
telling them that: “Never before Jamestown and Plymouth Rock had our American
civilization been in such a real danger as now, if Axis win all control of
Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and the high seas.” But it was finally Germany
which declared war on US.
Many historians believe that had Hitler not, in
a bout of anger, declared war on the US, Roosevelt would have been fighting
Japan and Churchill would have been waiting in vain for an additional
ROOSEVELT AND Obama are two very different persons of different
backgrounds and attitudes. And yet there is wide similarity in their
presidential technique and their understanding of American needs and desires.
Both can be described as very personal, taking great care of their ego and
carefully avoiding any division and trouble. Both face a country divided again
by those who claim that there is no need to get too deeply involved in various
foreign affairs and those who fear that non-intervention will ultimately harm
American security and interests abroad.
Both Obama and Roosevelt faced a
country tired of past wars which brought no benefit, and a lot of pain. Obama is
busy with his Obamacare project, which has raised huge public controversy and
doesn’t seem to be faring well, just like Roosevelt was busy with his New Deal
and industrial expansion.
Such similarities seem to indicate that Obama
would be just as slow in taking practical steps against any outside, or remote
danger as Roosevelt was in his day, even if he is well aware that there is an
ominous similarity between Hitler’s plans of world conquest of yesteryear and
the Islamic plans of conquest today.
He understands that Americans are
tired of senseless foreign operations which failed, at great cost of casualties
and economic loss. He continues carefully to consider his options, not unlike
Roosevelt, and will carefully explore and exploit any arrangements that may
postpone radical action.
He will always opt for diplomatic agreements in
an attempt to preserve peace. He may be forced to act just like Roosevelt did
after Pearl Harbor, but only if he has no other choice.
Israel in a most difficult position, since it is directly threatened by Iran,
which supports both Hezbollah and Hamas, proxy organizations whose purpose is
our destruction. The fact that Israel is the sole real friend of America in this
part of the world is important, but irrelevant when major issues of war and
peace are at stake.
Israel has faced similar dangers before, and has no
choice but to stand firm, just as Britain did while Roosevelt hesitated in
November, 1941. One should not hope for President Obama to be hasty in acting
against Iran, at least as long as he finds other means of obtaining what he
considers a more or less satisfying agreement.