THE FATEFUL decade, 1931-1941, began and ended with acts of violence by Japan. It was marked by the ruthless development of a determined policy of world domination on the part of Japan, Germany, and Italy.
In 1931 Japan seized Manchuria. Two years later Germany withdrew from the Disarmament Conference and began rearming. In 1934 Japan gave notice of termination of the Washington Treaty for the Limitation of Naval Armament.
In 1935 Italy invaded Ethiopia. In 1936 Hitler tore up the Treaty of Locarno and fortified the demilitarized Rhineland Zone. In 1937 Japan again attacked China. In 1938 Hitler occupied Austria and dismembered Czechoslovakia. During the first half of 1939 Hitler completed the destruction of Czechoslovakia and seized Memel, while Italy invaded Albania.
In September 1939 Hitler struck at Poland, and during the two years that followed almost all of the countries of Europe were plunged or dragged into war. In 1940 Japan with threats of force entered French Indochina. Finally, on December 7, 1941, Japan launched an armed attack on the United States, followed immediately by declarations of war against the United States on the part of Japan, of Germany, of Italy, and of their satellites.
In the face of these multiplying instances of treaty-breaking, of violence, and of open warfare, the United States followed a policy the successive stages of which are summed up here.
During the years preceding the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939, the Government of the United States directed much of its energies toward an improvement of international relations and thus toward prevention of a breakdown of world peace. In his inaugural address of March 4, 1933 President Roosevelt dedicated the United States to the Policy of the Good Neighbor-"the neighbor who resolutely respects himself and, because he does so, respects the rights of others-the neighbor who respects his obligations and respects the sanctity of his agreements in and with a world of neighbors". The Government of the United States advocated and applied the Good Neighbor Policy in the Western Hemisphere and everywhere in the world.
After the strain and confusion of the depression years, that policy bore its first fruit at the Seventh International Conference of American States, held in December 1933 at Montevideo, which ushered in a new era of inter-American friendship and solidarity, and through the adoption by this country, in June 1934, of the reciprocal-trade-agreements program. During the ensuing years the Government of the United States strove, by word and by deed, to make its contribution toward staying the rapidly proceeding deterioration of international political relations and toward building an economic foundation of enduring world peace.
After September 1939, when the forces of aggression and conquest burst all bounds, this Government sought in every practicable way to prevent the spread of conflict, while at the same time intensifying its efforts to carry out George Washington's admonition to place the country "on a respectable defensive posture". With the collapse of France in June 1940, with the appearance of Nazi legions on the shores of Western Europe, with Hitler's "blitz" attack on Britain and his openly proclaimed bid for control of the Atlantic, which paralleled Japan's drive for mastery of the western Pacific area, the United States took measures of self-defense by giving aid to nations resisting aggression and by greatly accelerating this nation's military, naval, and air rearmament program.
The documents, and the comments which here follow, set forth various acts and measures taken by the Government of the United States in the presence of mounting dangers to our national security. They should be read in the light of certain basic factors which necessarily affect the conduct of this country's foreign relations.
The conduct of the foreign relations of the United States is a function of the President, acting usually through the Secretary of State. The powers of the Executive in this field are very broad and sweeping. Yet the President and the Secretary of-State have by no means entire freedom in matters of foreign policy. Their powers may be defined or circumscribed by legislation-or by lack thereof. They must closely approximate the prevailing views of the country. In the conduct of foreign relations they must interpret and implement not a particular point of view in the country but the point of view of the nation as a whole.
Another factual limitation is that our foreign policy, like the foreign policy
of any other country, must at all times take into consideration the policies,
circumstances, and reactions of other governments and peoples. Action deemed
desirable by the United States may be wholly impracticable if it does not harmonize
with policies of other governments whose cooperation is necessary, or if such
action would excite substantial enmity or effective opposition on the part of
other nations or would isolate this country at a time when close cooperation
with other governments is essential.
In the history of our country situations have arisen in which the Executive, with wide access to many sources of information from abroad, has known of or foreseen developments in foreign relations of which the public had not yet become aware. In such cases the President and the Secretary of State have exercised such executive powers as they possess and have endeavored to explain to the public the forces at work and the probable course of events and to outline the policies which need be pursued in the best interest of the United States. In such cases, if and as legislation has been needed, the executive branch of the Government has as soon as practicable asked of the Congress legislation to make possible the pursuit of the proposed policies.
During a large part of the period with which this volume deals, much of public opinion in this country did not accept the thesis that a European war could vitally affect the security of the United States or that an attack on the United States by any of the Axis powers was possible. In this respect it differed from the President and the Secretary of State, who early became convinced that the aggressive policies of the Axis powers were directed toward an ultimate attack on the United States and that, therefore, our foreign relations should be so conducted as to give all possible support to the nations endeavoring to check the march of Axis aggression.
Our foreign policy during the decade under consideration necessarily had to move within the framework of a gradual evolution of public opinion in the United States away from the idea of isolation expressed in "neutrality" legislation and toward realization that the Axis design was a plan of world conquest in which the United States was intended to be a certain, though perhaps ultimate, victim, and that our primary policy therefore must be defense against actual and mounting danger. This was an important factor influencing the conduct of our foreign relations. Of determining importance also was another factor, namely, that in many nations outside the United States a similar complacency of view had originally prevailed and likewise was undergoing a gradual modification.
The pages which follow show the slow march of the United States from an attitude of illusory aloofness toward world-wide forces endangering America to a position in the forefront of the United Nations that are making common cause against an attempt at world conquest unparalleled alike in boldness of conception and in brutality of operation.
Source: U.S., Department of State, Publication 1983, Peace and War: United States Foreign Policy, 1931-1941 (Washington, D.C.: U.S., Government Printing Office, 1943), pp.1-3
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