Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Effect of the Blitz on US Public Opinion

The Opinion Research Corporation published a confidential memorandum in March 1941 in conjunction with Princeton University and the American Institute of Public Opinion entitled ‘The Public Looks at War.’  The memo hoped to issue a definitive statement regarding the current trends of US public opinion and increased support in aid to Great Britain. The report relied exclusively on questions posed by the Gallup poll and sampling carried out by the ORC.  It attempted to explain why US public opinion had changed so drastically in such a short period of time in addition to what extent the current environment, including the bombings in Britain, influenced the polls. Their conclusion was simple: If Britain continued to fight and the current trends in public opinion were sustained, there was a significant probability that America would become fully involved in the war. 

The memo argued that although the American public retained their core beliefs throughout the first year of the war - dislike of dictators, belief that Germany threatened American security and desire to aid Great Britain, etc - they had moved significantly away from passively ‘rooting from the grandstand’ and towards actively aiding Great Britain.  As a result, the American public overwhelmingly approved of Roosevelt’s policies towards aiding Britain and agreed that German bombers were a threat to US security.  The ORC claimed that aid to Britain had become much more popular, with the majority even willing to risk war.  Furthermore, opposition to war loans had declined and the public voted strongly in favour of Lend-Lease.  ‘Behind this willingness to help Great Britain,’ read the memo, ‘was the widespread belief that Hitler threatened our national security and democratic way of life.’  Furthermore, the majority of Americans now believed that the US had a better chance of staying out of the war by aiding Britain and preventing their defeat than by remaining neutral.

At the heart of the matter were the President’s efforts.  According to the report, when asked if the US should stay out of the war against Germany and Italy, the vast majority of the American public said yes.  However, the bombings in London magnified the situation in Europe and forced the American public to accept more risk in preventing the war from coming to American shores.  The ORC argued that this vote had become more of an ‘index of pious hope’ than a true measure of the public’s feeling.  When asked if the US should keep out of the war or aid Britain even at the risk of being pulled in, US public support for aiding Britain spiked from 36 percent in May 1940 to 68 percent in January 1941.  More important, however, was the margin of difference after the Blitz had begun.  During the period of the bombings, public support for aid to Britain even at the risk of becoming involved rose more than twenty points, whereas the margin of difference before September was only ten.  Furthermore, only after September 1940 did the majority of Americans favour aiding Britain regardless of the risk.

The memo concluded that, for the first time, the majority of the American public had become more concerned in aiding Britain, in an attempt to keep German bombers away from American cities, than staying out of the war.  Furthermore, the OCR argued that it was the President’s leadership that convinced the American public that a free Britain and strong British fleet were essential to American security.  If Britain fell and Nazi Germany had access to the Atlantic Ocean, argued the OCR, the majority of Americans felt that American cities would be targeted by German raiders. Consequently, the majority of Americans now agreed that only significant amounts of increased aid to Britain could prevent this outcome.[i] 

The author of that memo was Dr. Hadley Cantril and from autumn 1940 onwards he provided the Roosevelt administration with confidential information about American public opinion, particularly regarding the war in Europe.  Educated at Dartmouth, Cantril received his PhD from Harvard and was chairman of the Princeton University Department of Psychology.  Though trained as a psychologist, Cantril's most important work concerned the then-new topic of public opinion research. Influenced initially by the success of George Gallup during the 1936 presidential election, Cantril aimed to apply their systematic polling technique to academic social psychology.  In 1940 he founded Princeton University's Office of Public Opinion Research.  Dr. Cantril was also the founding editor of Public Opinion Quarterly, President of the Opinion Research Corporation, and Director of the Princeton Public Research Project.  Under a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, Cantril had been charting the course of American opinion through the polling mechanism of the American Institute of Public Opinion.

The American Institute of Public Opinion functioned as a totally independent fact-finding organization whose sole purpose was to determine US public opinion.  It attempted to be strictly impartial, bi-partisan, and separated from public or private causes.  The Poll’s main source of income was from US publications, which had exclusive rights to publish the Gallup findings.  In addition to its regular polls, the Gallup organization has conducted and published thousands of surveys.  The information that was published by the American Institute of Public Opinion was for ‘public consumption’ and for the ‘benefit of the American people.’ 

The project aimed to chart the course of American public opinion throughout the conflict and to discover why opinion changed at different times and among different demographics.  Some topics of study included:  what values people felt were threatened, why certain individuals were afraid while others appeared relatively indifferent, what basic frames of reference determine specific opinions toward the war, and how the war was affecting attitudes toward American social and political organizations. 

After Hitler’s successes in Scandinavia, the Low Countries, and France in May and June 1940, most Americans believed a Europe dominated by Germany was inevitable.   Cantrill argued that the American public remained unchanged until Hitler’s ‘listen to reason or be annihilated’ speech in later summer 1940.  However, after Hitler’s speech a growing demographic of sympathetic Americans began to favor Britain’s chances even after the initial uncertainty of the Battle of Britain in July and August.  By 7 September, sixty-seven percent of Americans thought the US should do more to help Britain win, although there was no definitive proposal for providing aid.  Furthermore, two-thirds of Americans saw themselves directly affected if Germany won the war and more than half believed that Germany would wage war on the US after Britain was defeated.[ii] 

Cantril organized the categories into three camps – anti-Interventionists, Sympathizers and Interventionists.  Most importantly, the sympathetic demographic grew from the isolationist camp.  In summer 1940, the American public was asked, ‘Should the US help Britain even at the risk of entering the war?’   Sixty-one percent answered “no” while thirty-five percent answered ‘yes.’  Of the sixty-one percent who argued America should keep out of the war at all, thirty-eight percent said that the US should do more to help Britain.  The steadily growing sympathetic Americans split the anti-interventionist camp down the middle.  On one hand, they agreed with the anti-Interventionists that America should categorically not get involved in the war.  On the other hand, they agreed with the Interventionists that the US should do more to Help Britain.  As it stood on 1 August, the anti-Interventionists polled at twenty-three percent, the Interventionists at thirty-three percent and the sympathizers at thirty-eight percent – the largest of the three.  By the end of the Blitz in May 1940, the sympathetic camp will be signally aligned with the Interventionists.  The main reason was the Blitz.[iii] 

On the eve of the Blitz, about one-third of the total population was identified as Interventionists.  They believed that it was more important to help England even at the risk of entering the war than to keep out of the war.  They also advocated for increased aid to Britain and American foreign policy should do more to help Britain.  Sixty percent feared a German attack on the US, while ninety percent believed their lives would be affected if Germany won the war.  The majority of Americans were confident that Britain would be victorious, but only with significant help from the United States.  Most of the people who identified themselves as Interventionists were well-educated men in the middle to upper income bracket.  According to Cantril, these Americans were more able to maintain levels of opinion and much more interested in preserving their standard of living.  Furthermore, because they were relatively well-established and successful individuals, they had more to lose by a Nazi victory.  Therefore, there was little conflict between self-interest and sympathy.[iv]

People in the sympathetic group agreed with the anti-Interventionists that it was more important to keep out of the war than to help Britain.  However, they also agreed with the Interventionists that is was important to do more to assist Britain and their fight against Nazi Germany.  In regards to the consequences of a German victory, sympathetic Americans were wedged between the Interventionist and the anti-Interventionists.  However, although the same number of anti-Interventionists and Sympathizers believed America would eventually enter into the war on the side of Britain, twice as many believed Britain would win the war.  Cantril suggested that this was in direct correlation as to why this sympathetic demographic believed it was important to do more to assist Britain.

What was particularly interesting about this group was that they did not have a clear voting pattern as did the Interventionists and anti-Interventionists.  They came from a mixed financial background, represented members of both sexes, scattered age levels, and were from various parts of the country.  Cantril argued that all of them were divided between their own self-interest and their sympathies for the people of Britain, and on the eve of the Blitz, self-interest had the upper-hand. Cantril attributed this mainly to the growing ‘homogenous’ consensus happening in America at this time.  Growing national traditions, interdependence of domestic economy, increased literacy and most importantly, the radio, forced most Americans to identify with this problem strictly along national, not local lines.[v]

A good indication that public opinion was changing in America, were the numbers regarding aid to the Allies.  By December ninety percent of Americans agreed that the US should continue to aid Britain to help prevent a German victory.  Another clear sign that the Blitz influenced US public opinion was the way numbers spiked after it began.  In May 1940, only thirty-five percent of the public thought the US should reverse its stance on loans to the Britain and France.  After September, the number never fell below fifty percent, reaching almost sixty percent by Christmas. [vi]  

[i] Box 28, Folder: Propaganda, Hoover Institution Archives
[ii] H. Cantril, ‘America Faces the War: A Study in Public Opinion’ (The Public Opinion Quarterly. Vol. 4, No. 3, 1940), pg. 387.
[iii] Cantril, ‘America Faces the War: A Study in Public Opinion’, pg. 401.
[iv] Cantril, ‘America Faces the War: A Study in Public Opinion’,  pg. 403.
[v] Cantril, ‘America Faces the War: A Study in Public Opinion’, pg. 405.
[vi] Cantril, ‘America Faces the War: A Study in Public Opinion’, pg. 553
[vii]Hadley Cantril, Donald Rugg & Fredrick William  ‘America Faces the War: Shifts in Opinion’ (The Public Opinion Quarterly. Vol. 4, No. 4, 1940), pg. 652.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Blitz and its Impact on US Public Opinion
As the impact of the Blitz on US public opinion was being debated in Washington, committees began to appear in great numbers throughout the country.  The two most prominent were the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies (CDAAA) chaired by William Allen White and the American First Committee (AFC) chaired by General Robert E. Wood.  Both committees included the Blitz as the most important part of their campaigns.  The CDAAA certainly showed the bombings in more explicit terms; mainly how they affected American democracy, public sympathies toward Great Britain and how she was defending American interests by acting as her front-line of defense, as well as the reality of American cities subjected to systematic destruction from the air.  The AFC reputed all these claims, adding the Blitz was being over-stated and was part of an orchestrated effort by Anglo-American propaganda organizations.  Furthermore, the anti-interventionists argued that any threat to American defense in the Western Hemisphere was justification to concentrate on hemispheric defense.

The Committee to Defend American by Aiding the Allies was created in the spring of 1940 by William Allen White.  White owned and operated the Emporia Gazette out of Emporia, Kansas and was registered Republican.  However, he supported many aspects of the President’s New Deal and openly supported Roosevelt’s steps towards aiding Britain’s fight against Hitler.
Throughout the summer of 1940, the CDAAA collected more that 250,000 signatures for a petition backing the Destroyers-for-Bases deal and more aid for Britain. As the bombings began to intensify, White stepped up his public plea for more aid to include American bombers.  The committee urged the President to send 25 flying fortresses to Great Britain in early September ‘to be of major help in restricting destruction from the air.’ According to the LA Times, the urgency of White’s appeal to the American public and Roosevelt had been ‘increased’ due to the ‘German onslaught upon London.’  White and the CDAAA had clear plans to include the bombings of first, London, and then all of Great Britain, as justification for their existence. [i]

White and the CDAAA’s push for ‘aid-short-of-war’ quickly developed into a national movement that included 626 branches throughout the country.[ii]  The CDAAA campaigned on many ways to achieve their aims and widen their base.  The ideas of appeasement not only provided the CDAAA with ammunition against the opposition, but also allowed the committee to promote their organisation as the defenders of democracy.  White called appeasement the ‘greatest danger in the country,’ and claimed that it was ‘treason to democracy.’  He argued that such ideas would only lead to a stalemate peace, and although it ‘would not mean that New York or New Orleans would be bombed,’ Hitler would do his best to implement his war of ideology in South America.[iii]

The opposition was an unlikely coalition of pacifists, communists, isolationists, anti-New Dealers, pro-German sympathizers, anti-Semites and leading businessmen.  Together they formed organisations such as the American Friends Service Committee, Verne Marshall’s Minister’s No War Committee, Committee of One, Keep America out of War Congress, and the National Legion of Mothers of America.  However, the America First Committee emerged as the leading anti-intervention organisation with nearly 800,000 members in 650 chapters across the country. 

The AFC was created by a group of Yale graduate students and quickly grew.  The AFC issued a four point program, arguing that ‘aid short of war’ weakened America’s defenses and threatened to involve America in war in Europe.  America should concentrate on hemispheric defense.  American democracy can only be preserved by keeping out of Britain’s war, and no foreign power can successfully attack a prepared United States.[iv] They argued against the Bases-for-Destroyers deal, publicly ridiculed and chastised Lend-Lease as nothing but a ‘dictator bill’ and campaigned heavily against US led convoys across the Atlantic.  They also attempted to educate the American public against pro-British propaganda, including the notion that German bombers could reach American cities. 

Shortly after the AFC began, the retired General and prominent businessmen Robert E. Wood was chosen as committee president.  Based mainly in Chicago, the 61 year-old Sears, Roebuck & Co. chairman immediately unleashed a public opinion campaign to match the Interventionists.  Despite a military background and having served in the First World War in France, Gen. Wood argued that it was not America’s place to fight another European war.  Because of his reputation as a successful businessman and patriot, Gen. Wood’s presence as the AFC’s acting president gathered considerable attention.  Wood toured the country warning the American public against the dangers of war and advocating for a stronger hemispheric defense.  Gen. Wood and the AFC rejected the CDAAA’s claim that Britain was fighting America’s war, stating that although he supported repealing the Neutrality Act in favour of Cash and Carry, he did not believe that America’s security depended on it. 

Less than a month after the Blitz began, Gen. Wood delivered a speech before the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations outlining the AFC’s strategies and choices. In addition to AFC’s established four points, Gen. Wood argued that aerial bombardment alone did not win wars.  Furthermore, he claimed a sustained aerial bombardment on Britain does not guarantee a German victory or even a successful invasion.  With the support of the AFC, Gen. Wood accused President Roosevelt of creating mass panic with comments that a defeated Britain meant German bombs falling on America cities.  ‘The air invasion of America is ridiculous,’ he told the group of supporters, ‘worthy of Hollywood and certainly not the White House.’ Along with the ideology, military strategy and politics, the AFC and Gen Wood argued that it was British-led propaganda like this that was affecting US public opinion.  Regardless of the civilian bombing, wrote Gen. Wood, Britain was an imperialistic world power bent on preserving as much of her empire as possible.[v] 


[i] LA Times, ‘Aid to Allies Group Urges Bombers Be Sent to British’, September 13, 1940, pg. 6.
[ii] LA Times, ‘Aid to Allies Group Urges Bombers Be Sent to British’, September 13, 1940, pg. 6.
[iii] The Chicago Tribune, ‘White Requests Aid for Britain on Wider Basis’, November 17, 1940, pg. ?
[iv] Justus Doenecke, The Battle Against Intervention, 1939-1941, (Kreiger PublishingCompany: Florida, 1997), pg. 37.
[v] ‘Our Foreign Policy’ Gen. Robert E Wood, 4 October 1940 Hoover Institute Box 281

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Blitz and the Rise of the Welfare State

The Second World War had a profound effect on civilian life in Britain.  By May 1940, there had been more civilian deaths in Britain than all three branches of the Armed Services combined.  As Prime Minister Winston Churchill stated, ‘This is a war of the unknown warriors,’ and those unknown warriors were the citizens of Great Britain -the home front had become the battle front.  Trenches were dug in backyards and public parks, cities and villages were fortified, roads were barricaded and factories were protected as if they were military bases.  It quickly became known as the ‘People’s War.’ 

As the threat of invasion became reality in the late summer of 1940, Britain’s government called upon its citizens to ‘stay calm and carry on.’  This included serving in the newly formed civil defenses – a ‘citizen’s army’ that required men and women of all classes to do their part in the impending Battle of Britain.  Prime Minister Winston Churchill told Britons that this would be their ‘finest hour,’ and encouraged anybody who would listen that not to surrender, but show the rest of the world what the people of Britain were made of.  People of all classes began to share common experiences of total war: Experiences that transcended the rigid class structure of traditional Britain.  When the bombs began to fall in late August/early September of 1940, most citizens believed that they would overcome these hardships and a fairer, more equal Britain would be the result.

 ‘The People’s War’ was a slogan that ensured a social revolution within British society: A revolution that was created by Nazi bombs breaking down British social barriers. Throughout the Blitz a massive propaganda campaign was mounted by the British government, aided considerably by American journalists and broadcasters, which encouraged the citizens of Britain to maintain their strength and promised that they would be rewarded for their bravery.  The ‘Spirit of the Blitz’ and ‘Britain Can Take It’ was as manufactured by the Ministry of Information as it was spontaneously conceived in the streets.  So when German bombs stopped falling in earnest in May 1941, Londoners and the rest of Britain began to look forward to the future, holding their politicians to their word.

However, the government was not prepared for Nazi bombers or the amount of people who had been left homeless.  There were not adequate plans for housing for those whose lives were so dramatically altered by the bombings.  As the government scrambled to come up with suitable and acceptable policies, people of London’s East End working class district continued to loose everything.  As early as February 1941, members of the public began openly lobbying the Ministry of Health for better sanitary conditions in shelters and better access to health care professionals.  

The first step towards rebuilding British society was the Beveridge Report.  Named after its Chairman, sociologist and economist William Beveridge, the influential document laid the foundations for what was to become the Welfare State in Great Britain.  The immensely popular document identified the five ‘Giant Evils’ of society: disease, squalor, ignorance, idleness and want.  The committee proposed vast changes and reforms to the current British system, which included the expansion of National Insurance and the creation of the National Health Service.  The ideas that government was responsible for all of its members of society, from the ‘cradle to the grave,’ were moved forward significantly by the events of the Blitz, claiming ‘A revolutionary moment in the world’s history is time for revolutions, not for patching.’

The Report mad three main principles

-Any proposal for the future, while they should use to the full the experience gathered in the past, should not be restricted by consideration of sectional interest established in the obtaining of the experience.

-Organization of social insurance should be treated as one part only of the comprehensive policy of social progress.

-Social security must be achieved by co-operation between the state and the individual.

I personally dont agree with all of the Beveridge Report and neither did most of the Labour party.  First of all, Beveridge was a economist with deep ties to the Conservative party.  His proposal that the  expansion of Natioal Insurance on the grounds that it was a flat rate and not means tested, didnt resenate well with the left.  The idea was that it served more like a State backed 'savings account' that paid out what one had paid in - much like the modern proposal backed by US Republicans for the privitiation of Social Security.  However, the foundation had been laid and the Labour victory in the Summer of 1945 allowed them to implement the report how they saw fit.

The ideas of the Blitz and the Second World War differed from the promise by the government for the soldiers returning from the First World War – ‘A land fit for heroes.’ Instead, Britons wanted a land where everyone had access to a decent education, sufficient health care and accommodation for all.  These ideas were broadcasted and published throughout Great Britain during the months of the Blitz with specific example aimed at those had suffered at the hands of the German raiders.  Patriots such as novelist and playwright J.B. Priestly, the brilliant academic Julian Huxley and even novelist George Orwell all called upon Britons stand up to the German bombs, while reaching out to all members of British society with the end goal of creating a better and stronger society when the bombs finished falling.

Although the Blitz was certainly used by many to promote a united sense of Britishness during a horrific and desperate time, at least it helped to promote the creation of the Welfare State.  The Blitz fostered the idea that all members of British society were responsible for the welfare of all.  The legacy of those ideas, whether manufactured or spontaneously conceived, helped lead to the Family Allowances Act of 1945, National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act of 1946 and 1948, The National Insurance Act of 1946 and 1949, the Pensions Act of 1947 and the National Health Service Act of 1946, all which ensured that those who fought and died in the Armed Services, as well as those in the Civil Defenses, did so for a fairer and more equal Great Britain. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Appeasement, Isolationism and the Road to War

When Neville Chamberlain returned from Munich in September 1938 promising ‘peace in our time’, he was met by cheers and congratulations from a wide range of supporters.  President Roosevelt sent a cable reading ‘good man’ and even fellow Tory critics such as Anthony Eden acknowledged some good had come from Chamberlain’s diplomatic victory.  Nevile Henderson, the British Ambassador to Berlin wrote Chamberlain stating ‘Millions of mothers will be blessing your name tonight for having saved their sons from the horrors of war.’  Chamberlain himself stated that his most vivid memory of the affair were the crowds and crowds of Germans cheering him as he departed Munich. Less than a year later, Great Britain and Germany were at war. [i]  

The diplomatic victory achieved at Munich was the last for Great Britain on her terms, and the last without America’s support.  At the time, Great Britain and the United States were closer together than they were further apart, but the ideology that separated them was the fundamental difference between two of the most powerful democracies.  Great Britain was a colonial empire, with over a quarter of the world falling under the jurisdiction of His Majesty’s Government.  While although the United States had a few colonial possession, they for the most part saw themselves as the defender of freedom and oppression from European imperialism. 

Politically and ideologically, Roosevelt and Chamberlain were not natural allies.  It is well documented that Chamberlain had little faith in America’s commitment to European affairs, stating ‘It is always best and safest to count on nothing from America except words.’[ii]  But the fact is that Chamberlain didn’t want a commitment from the US unless it was on Britain’s terms.  This simple fact is the key to understating Anglo-American relations before Munich.  Chamberlain feared above all that an alliance with the US would undo everything that ‘appeasement’ had stood for.  He knew if Great Britain depended too heavily on US aid, then Britain would be forced to make concessions on global trade, economic freedom and colonial home rule when it came to peace time, famously stating, ‘Heaven knows I don’t want the Americans to fight for us.  We should have to pay for that too dearly.’[iii]

The price that Britain would have to pay for American intervention was what Chamberlain thought made her great – her empire.  However, far from being Britain’s strength, the Empire was increasingly becoming a liability, undermining the government’s foreign policies to contain the aggressor powers.  After Britain and France’s victory in 1918, they assumed control of German and Ottoman possessions in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, stretching their means to the limit. At the same time Hitler was annexing half of Central Europe, Britain was trying to deal with a revolt in Palestine, Japanese aggression and territorial claims in Asia and growing unrest for home-rule in India.  In order to restore the balance and promote the prospect of peace, Britain had to relinquish some of her colonial possessions, and that was not something the British government was willing to do. 

Great Britain’s policy of ‘appeasement’ was created out the necessity to maintain balance throughout her empire.  Chamberlain, amongst others, argued that too firm of a stance in one area of the world might disturb the balance in another.  This national strategy was spelled out in a 1935 Defense Requirement Committee report:

It is a cardinal requirement of our National and Imperial security that our foreign policy should be conducted as to avoid the possible development of a situation in which we might be confronted simultaneously with hostile Japan in the east, Germany in the west and any power of the main line of communication between the two.[iv]

When Neville Chamberlain became Prime Minister in 1937, he continued this policy as his own.  The policy focused on Britain’s strength, such as trade and finance combined with decades of diplomatic experience.  Chamberlain never intended this policy as a concession to aggressive nations, but rather to continue Britain’s long history of adjustment and accommodation of conflicting interests, while promoting the prospect of peace and political stability.  However, Chamberlain was never able to successfully implement this policy, because the foreign affairs of the late 1930’s superseded Britain’s ability to produce a ‘Grand Settlement’.

As Professor Richard Overy points out, appeasement failed because Britain lacked the strength to implement it.  Britain was in no position to meet force with force, without upsetting the balance of risk, and subsequently destroying her global dominance.  Regarded as her foremost interest, the protection of the Empire was the direct reason for Britain’s appeasement policy.  The Empire was the cornerstone of Britain’s prestige and world influence, and there is very little evidence that suggests Chamberlain would have relinquished any part of it on anybody’s terms but his own. American neutrality only encouraged the aggressor countries to push the limits of the international community, and as the League of Nations steadily lost the ability to mediate, Britain was left holding the pieces.    


It was America’s natural position to sympathize with the victims of aggression.  However, at the height of isolationism, America’s relationship with Britain was strained at best. The Committee of Investigation of the Munitions Industry, also know as the Nye Committee after its sponsor, Republican Senator Gerald Nye of North Dakota, sought to expose the munitions trading industry as the primary benefactor of America’s involvement in the First World War.  Roosevelt hoped to gain support for legislation that would allow him to nationalize the arms and munitions industry: instead Nye produced classified documents from the State Department exposing British and French financial dealings during the First World War in order to strengthen the Johnson Act of 1934. Although the committee found little evidence of conspiracy, the American public grew even more suspicious of British and French intentions. 

Still bitter over the last European war, many Americans saw Britain as manipulating foreign affairs to save her Empire and retain her economic dominance. Britain viewed the Neutrality Acts as evidence that America didn’t have the heart, or the interest in containing Hitler. Events like the Hoare-Laval Pact and the continued policy of appeasement only strengthened the isolationist’s argument and furthered Neutrality legislation.  There was a wide and popular sentiment across America that under no circumstances would the New World again be duped into doing the work of the Old World. 

In a failed attempt to ‘educate’ the American public, Roosevelt stated on 5 October 1937, ‘it seems to be unfortunately true that the epidemic of world lawlessness is spreading.’[v] Roosevelt suggested that aggressor countries should be ‘quarantined’ by those favoring peace.  Chamberlain supported the policy stating, ‘…he has voiced conviction of this country as well as his own.’  Privately, Roosevelt hoped to limit aggressor countries with economic sanctions enforced by an Anglo-American naval blockade, writing a few days later ‘I’m inclined to think that this is more Christian, as well as more political, that we should go to war with them.’[vi]  However, the President’s ‘Quarantine’ speech was immediately chastised by the press and condemned by the public.  Frustrated by the public’s reaction, Roosevelt warned that turning public opinion was going to be difficult, but necessary, writing ‘I believe that as time goes on we can slowly but surely make people realize that war will be a greater danger to us if close all the doors and windows than if we go out in the street and use our influence to curb the riot.’[vii]

Consequently, Chamberlain’s distrust of America grew. Aware of the Prime Minister’s indifference towards the US, Roosevelt told his Secretary of Commerce, Henry Morganthau, ‘We must recognize that fundamentally, he dislikes Americans.’ So when Roosevelt approached Chamberlain in January 1938 with a ‘peace plan’ to establish an international organization founded on the ideals of peace, disarmament and free trade, Chamberlain dismissed as ‘domestic consumption.’  Chamberlain had no faith in ‘collective security’ and feared American involvement would be disruptive just when he felt Britain was gaining the upper hand: ‘They [Germany and Italy] might even use it to postpone conversations with us if we were associated with it – they would see it as another attempt on the part of the democratic bloc to put the dictators in the wrong.’[viii]

Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, protested, declaring he would rather give the dictators a chance to break ties with the West, than risk good relations with the US.  In the end, Roosevelt postponed the plan and Eden resigned shortly after in protest of Chamberlain’s methods of appeasement.  This was truly the low point of Anglo-American relations leading up to war.   

After the failed ‘Peace Plan’, Roosevelt gave up on turning Britain away from appeasement and focused on an ‘unneutral re-armament’ effort.  Re-armament was seen by both Roosevelt and Chamberlain as a deterrent to war: an alternative rather than preparation.  On 28 January, the President went before Congress and asked for funds to increase the armament program solely on the basis that, in comparison to other nations, the US had inadequate land and sea defenses.  Secretary of State Cordell Hull specifically targeted the naval re-armament program arguing that it was the duty of the current administration to do everything possible to prevent being drawn into war because of ill-prepared measures. 

After Munich, Roosevelt re-called his Ambassador to Paris, William C. Bullitt, to assess Chamberlain’s agreement.  Amongst other things, Bullitt expressed the growing anxiety within the British and French public, particularly in London and Paris, of Germany’s intentions of mass aerial bombardment.  Privately, Roosevelt believed that the Allies would not be able to withstand such terror.  He told Bullitt that if Hitler successfully unleashed a campaign of terror, that France and Britain could very well be defeated.  Furthermore, Bullitt told Roosevelt that French Prime Minister wouldn’t have signed the agreement if France had three to four thousand more military aircraft.  The next day Roosevelt told reporters that he wanted $500 million appropriated to the defense budget for the production of military aircraft. 

In January 1939, Roosevelt followed up his promise for an increased defense budget by asking the Senate Appropriations Committee for 500 million dollars for military spending. He also began attacking the neutrality laws arguing the existing laws ‘may actually give aid to the aggressor and deny it to the victim.’  In a meeting with the Senate Military Affairs Committee on 31 January, the President candidly revealed his true intention in aiding the British and French.  He proposed a policy of ‘Cash and Carry’ that would provide significant war materials to the Allies, while denying access to Italy and Germany.  Playing on the fear of the Committee, Roosevelt stated that as it stood, Hitler and Mussolini had a 50/50 chance on defeating the Allies. Although the President acknowledged that this may be an ‘unnuetral’ policy of ‘self protection’, he argued that it was the best way to reduce the possibility of war coming to the United States. [ix]

[i] Richard Overy, The Road to War.  (Macmillian: London, 1989), pg. 89.
[ii] Overy, Origin, pg. 22.
[iii] Chamberlain to Ida, 27 Jan. 1940, NC 18/1/1140
[iv] Overy, Origins, pg. 17.
[v] State Release 1937, No.419, pg. 279.
[vi] Reynolds, From Munich to Pearl Harbor, pg. 38.
[vii] Overy, TRTW, pg. 275-276
[viii] Reynolds, Alliance. Pg. 126.
[ix] Reynolds, Munich to Pearl Harbor, pg. 47.