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USA Neutrality Before The Attack Of Pear Harbor

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For more than a hundred years, from 1815 to 1917, the United States had kept itself out of European wars and after the First World War, the feeling of this traditional policy revived through the country. However, isolation failed again when the country entered the Second World War in December 1941 after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The neutrality of the United States until this attack was a controversy and this essay will discuss its evolution between the world wars. In a first part, we will look at the nature of the neutrality and isolation to which the administration was committed between the two wars and in a second part at the shift toward intervention at the approach of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The united states were self-absorbed during the decades that followed the First World War and the country was then pledging itself as a neutral with regard to the international events of the moment.

Indeed, the depression that started in October 1929 and which continued until the late 30's, swept the country with the national income falling from 87.9 billion dollars in 1029 to 41.7 billion dollars in 1932 and the government was trying to resolve it. In 1933, when Roosevelt became president, all his attention was focused on the country's economic situation. He put forward a huge economic program known as the New Deal that was very expensive for the government and there would be no money left to go to war if one was on the way. The program of national economic recovery deliberately excluded international economic cooperation and indeed, when the League of Nations organised a world financial meeting in June 1933 to solve the world depression Roosevelt refused to cooperate on a world basis putting his country first. All this focalisation on domestic affairs explains the revival of an isolationism mood, the national economy was deteriorating and the government and the citizens were more interested by their situation rather than what was happening on the international scene and the role that their country should play in it.

In addition to the economic crisis, the First World War brought a great disillusion. There was the feeling that the country should never have entered it and in the 20's and the 30's, the federal administration, writers, societies and politicians were debating on the status of neutrality in order to avoid another entanglement in any foreign wars.

Indeed, since the end of the Great War, many peace movements appeared throughout the country such as the National Council for the Prevention of War (NCPW) and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WIL). Their main goal was to arouse the public opinion against war. There was also a pacific flow going on among college students: "On April 13, 1934, an estimated 25,000 students attended antiwar demonstrations and on April 12, 1935, 60,000 students participated in an antiwar strike . Many beliefs took shape at that time and one was that the war was the fruit of a conspiracy of bankers and munitions makers who, taking advantage of the situation, were making huge profits out of it. They were called the "merchants of death" who "Eager for the profits of war, they willingly accepted the sacrifices that it meant for other men" . Principally, the Republican Nye who in 1934 introduced a resolution which was about the investigation of the munitions industry, argued this point. At the same time, books and articles were published whose subject was also the negative role of the international arms trade in wars. There was the Merchants of Death by H.C Engelbrecht and F.C Hanighen, Iron, Blood and Profits by Georde Seldes and the anonymous article published in Fortune in March 1934 entitled "Arms and the Men". "All these publications shared a common premise - the belief that the arms makers conspired to foment war and disrupt the peace of the world" . All this books, societies and the Nye's argument helped to create an atmosphere of suspicion in the country and it influenced the citizens who supported the Nye resolution which passed the Congress in April 1934 and which led to the creation of the Nye committee to investigate the munitions trade. The peace societies and the Nye committee were convinced that the only way to avoid another war was the disarmament of the country and to keep out of financial ties with others countries. To them, the country "did not need to spend large sums on a military establishment and it needed no more than a defense force that would supplement the defenses - the broad ocean- supplied by nature" .

At the level of the government, the federal administration revealed also to be isolationist and it was materialized by a series of neutrality acts passed from 1935 until 1939. The acts ruled what the country would do as a neutral to keep out of foreign war. The country's ideology of isolationism put in law through the neutrality acts was fully accepted by citizens whose main interest was at that time their own and they cannot be blamed when in the country "there were four million of unemployed in 1930, and twelve million in 1932 - one worker out of every four" . However, all this, is theoretical isolation but the United States did put it in practice.

Effectively, at the same time, many wars were waged throughout the world and politicians were doing their best for the U.S to stay out of them. They did it in many ways depending on the characteristics of each war such as its localisation or the relationships the country had with the belligerents. First, Roosevelt repudiated the participation of the country in the League of Nations on February 2, 1932 saying that "the United States should follow the principles of George Washington and "preserve our international freedom"" and this statement is a clear expression of the United States isolating itself.

In 1931, Japan invaded China and Hoover, the president at the time, decided to follow a policy of non-recognition of a state of war in the Far East. Therefore, the country did not change its foreign policy concerning Japan or China and when Roosevelt became president, he did the same. Then in the Chaco war between Paraguay and Bolivia Roosevelt signed the Chaco resolution and issued a proclamation banning the sale of arms and munitions to both belligerents. Neutrality was also applied to the civil war of Spain that started in 1936 when on January 1937 the Congress put an embargo on all arms and munitions to either side.

As we can see, neutrality was in action following the country's wish to stay out of every war and the administration did not help one country or another.


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