In this video segment adapted from American Experience, view newsreel footage, archival photos, and interviews to explore Franklin Roosevelt's efforts to help defend ...
American Experience: "FDR"
This media asset was adapted from American Experience: "FDR".
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Adapted from American Experience: "FDR". Third party materials courtesy of Archive Films/Getty Images, Corbis, FDR Library, Library of Congress, Grinberg, National Archives, and UCLA Film and Television Archives.
In the year after the German invasion of Poland that marked the beginning of World War II, the Axis powers had overrun the majority of countries on the European continent. Only Britain remained to fight the Axis, and it had been significantly weakened by the loss of ships and tanks at Dunkirk in June 1940. German air attacks on British ships, ports, and urban centers began the following month and underscored British isolation in the war effort. Winston Churchill, Britain's prime minister, referred to this crisis as the Battle of Britain and sought assistance from the United States in a series of secret messages to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Roosevelt was constrained by both public sentiment and congressional legislation. America’s geographical distance from Europe and longstanding preference for neutrality in foreign affairs had been reinforced in the years since World War I by restrictive tariffs, quotas on immigration, and the argument that foreign policy should focus primarily on the defense of America's borders. The horrors of World War I and the disappointments of the peace treaty that followed, as well as the economic turmoil of the Great Depression, also influenced public opinion. These sentiments were espoused by the America First Committee, with aviation hero Charles Lindbergh as its most prominent spokesperson, and legislated in the series of Neutrality Acts that required foreign governments to pay cash for all weapons.
With the option of direct foreign aid unavailable, Roosevelt proposed to assist Britain through loans. Under this policy, known as Lend-Lease, the United States would send tanks, ships, aircraft, and munitions to Britain, while the British agreed to return these items at the war's conclusion. Roosevelt drew upon his political skills to lobby for the plan. He put his case in everyday terms by arguing that, rather than selling your garden hose to your next-door neighbor when his house is on fire, you should lend the hose and get it back once the fire has been put out. After vigorous lobbying of Congress and the public, Lend-Lease was enacted in March 1941.
The notion of returning the more than $30 billion in weaponry provided to Britain under Lend-Lease was unrealistic. The debt was renegotiated at war's end, and Congress approved several extensions over the next 60 years. Ultimately, less than one quarter of the original loan was repaid. Roosevelt saw, however, that Germany would not be satisfied with territorial gains in Europe, and that support of Britain was essential if Nazi Germany was to be deterred from controlling all of Western Europe. He acted on these feelings by secretly sending the first weapons shipments to Britain before the legislation was signed into law.
- Was isolationism a defensible policy for the United States to adopt in 1941, in light of events taking place in the rest of the world?
- To what extent did the use of common terms such as "Lend-Lease" and the garden hose analogy help to sell the public on aiding Great Britain? Explain.
- Did the enactment of Lend-Lease make American participation in World War II inevitable?