EUROPEAN WAR 1940


President Roosevelt's Address to Congress January 3

IN HIS ADDRESS to Congress on January 3, 1940, President Roosevelt recalled his repeated warnings that the daily lives of citizens of the United States would, of necessity, feel the shock of events on other continents. He said that the overwhelming majority of our people continued in their hope and expectation that this country would not become involved in military participation in the war. There was a vast difference, however, between keeping out of war and "pretending that this war is none of our business". The President said that the future world would be "a shabby and dangerous place to live in" if it were ruled by force in the hands of a few. He declared that we must look ahead and see the possibilities for our children if the rest of the world should come to be dominated by concentrated force alone; if a large part of the world were forbidden to worship God and were "deprived of the truth which makes men free"; if world trade were controlled by any nation or group of nations which set up that control through military force.

President Roosevelt declared further that while other peoples had the right to cheese their own form of government the people of the United States believed that such choice "should be predicated on certain freedoms which we think are essential everywhere"; that we knew that we ourselves would never be wholly safe at home unless other governments recognized these freedoms.

Visit of Under Secretary Welles to Europe

After the German armies had crushed military resistance in Poland September 1939, the European war entered into a period of comparative inactivity as the opposing forces maintained positions behind their respective fixed fortifications. This inactivity continued during he winter of 1939-40.

The United States Government took advantage of this period to endeavor to ascertain whether there was any possibility whatever at that time for the establishment of a just and lasting peace in Europe. On February 9, 1940 the White House announced that Under Secretary of State Welles would proceed to Europe for the purpose of reporting to the President and the Secretary of State on conditions there; that he would visit Italy, France, Germany, and Great Britain but would not be authorized to make any proposals or commitments in the name of the Government. Mr. Welles arrived in Europe at the end of February and during the following three weeks conferred with the heads of governments as well as with other prominent statesmen in the four countries.

On March 29, following the return of Mr. Welles to the United States, President Roosevelt said that "even though there may be scant immediate prospect for the establishment of any just, stable and lasting peace in Europe", the information obtained by Mr. Welles would be of great value to this Government in the general conduct of its foreign relations as well as in a future peace settlement.

German Invasion of Denmark and Norway

The military inactivity of the winter of 1939-40 came to an abrupt end when on April 9, 1940 German troops invaded Denmark, without opposition, and Norway, where their invasion was contested. On April 13 President Roosevelt denounced this latest instance of German aggression. He emphasized this Government's disapprobation of such "unlawful exercise of force". If civilization was to survive, he said, the rights of smaller nations to independence, to their territorial integrity, and to their unimpeded opportunity for self-government must be respected by their more powerful neighbors.

The British and French Governments immediately sent military forces to Norway to assist the Norwegians against the German invasion. Despite this, the better-prepared German armies pushed the allies back, and in a few weeks Germany was in military control of Norway.

Efforts To Keep Italy out of the War

At the beginning of the war in Europe, Italy, although a military ally of Germany, had announced that it would not take part in the war. During the following spring, however, there were indications that Italy might soon become a participant. President Roosevelt therefore decided to appeal to Mussolini to prevent the war from spreading further. On April 29, 1940 he sent a message to Mussolini stating that a further extension of the area of hostilities would necessarily have far-reaching and unforeseeable consequences not only in Europe, but also in the Near East and the Far East, in Africa, and in the three Americas. The President said that no one could predict with assurance, should such a further extension take place, what the ultimate result might be, or foretell what nations might eventually find it imperative to enter the war in their own defense. The President said further that because of the geographic position of the United States we had a panoramic view of the existing hostilities in Europe; that he saw no reason to anticipate that any one nation, or any one combination of nations, could successfully undertake to dominate either the continent of Europe or much less a greater part of the world. The President concluded his appeal with an expression of the hope that the powerful influence of Italy and of the United States might yet be exercised, when the appropriate opportunity was presented, "in behalf of the negotiation of a just and stable peace which will permit of the reconstruction of a gravely stricken world".

The United States Ambassador to Italy, William Phillips, read the President's message to Mussolini during a conversation on May 1. Mussolini replied orally to the following effect: Peace in Europe could not be considered without a recognition of the conditions which had come about as a consequence of the war; Germany could not be beaten; Poland had been defeated by Germany and the latter would permit the creation of a new independent Polish state; Germany was also willing that a new Czechoslovak state be reestablished; he hoped that the necessity of a "new geography" would be foreseen by the President; a new map of Europe must come into being. Mussolini went on to say that the political problem which then made a peaceful Europe impossible must be liquidated; that this must be done before the economic problems could be disposed of. He also referred generally to Italy's aspirations in a reconstituted Europe and said that Italy's position as a "prisoner within the Mediterranean" was intolerable.

A direct reply from Mussolini to the President was delivered to the latter by the Italian Ambassador on the following day. The reply was to the effect that the non-belligerency of Italy had effectively assured peace for 200,000,000 people; that Germany and Italy were opposed to a further extension of the conflict; that no peace was possible unless the fundamental problems of Italian liberty were solved; that as for repercussions which extension of the war would have on the three Americas, Italy had never concerned herself with the relations of the other American republics among themselves or with the United States and expected "reciprocity" so far as European affairs were concerned; and that when conditions permitted, an always based upon recognition of accomplished facts, Italy was read to contribute toward a better world order.

President Roosevelt sent another message to Mussolini, shortly after Belgium and the Netherlands were invaded by Germany, mentioning reports that Mussolini contemplated early entrance into the war. In this message of May 14, 1940 the President appealed to Mussolini to "stay wholly apart from any war". He said that the forces of slaughter, forces which denied God, forces which sought to dominate mankind by fear rather than by reason seemed to be extending their conquest against 100,000,000 human beings who had no desire but peace. He reminded Mussolini that the latter had it in his hands to stay the spread of the war to another group of 200,000,000 people. The President said that if this war should extend throughout the world it would pass beyond the control of the heads of states and would encompass the "destruction of millions of lives and the best of what we call the liberty and culture of civilization".

Mussolini replied on May 18 that "Italy is and intends to remain allied with Germany", and that "Italy cannot remain absent at a moment in which the fate of Europe is at stake".

On May 26 President Roosevelt in a third message to Mussolini referred to the Italian desire to obtain readjustments with regard to Italy's position and said that if Mussolini were willing to inform the President of the specific desires of Italy in this regard, he would communicate them to Great Britain and France. This would be done with the understanding that if an agreement were arrived at it would involve an assurance to the President by the French and British Governments that the agreement would be faithfully executed at the end of the war and that those Governments would welcome Italian participation at any eventual peace conference with a status equal to the of the belligerents; Mussolini would in a similar fashion assure the President that the claims of Italy would be satisfied by the execution of this agreement and that the agreement so reached would avoid the possibility of Italy's entering the war.

Ambassador Phillips was not permitted to deliver this message Mussolini in person. The Ambassador discussed it with the Italian Foreign Minister who, with the approval of Mussolini, said that Italy could not accept the President's proposal; that Mussolini was resolved to fulfill his obligations under the alliance with Germany; that Mussolini desired to keep his freedom of action and was no disposed to engage in any negotiations which "would not be in accordance with the spirit of Fascism"; and that "any attempt to prevent Italy from fulfilling her engagements is not well regarded". The Foreign Minister informed Ambassador Phillips that Italy would enter the-war "soon".

On May 30 President Roosevelt sent still another appeal to Mussolini. He warned the Italian dictator that if the war in Europe should be extended through the entrance of Italy, direct interests of the United States would be immediately and prejudicially affected. He reminded Mussolini of the historic and traditional interests of the United States in the Mediterranean. He said that this Government had never asserted any political interests in Europe, but had asserted its clearly defined economic interests; that through the extension of the war to the Mediterranean region the legitimate interests of the people of the United States would be gravely curtailed; and that such a possibility "cannot be viewed with equanimity". The President declared that the further extension of the war as the result of Italian participation would at once result in an increase in the rearmament program of the United States and in a redoubling of the efforts of the Government of the United States to facilitate in every practical way the securing within the United States by the allied powers of all the supplies which they might require. In conclusion, he spoke of his desire to promote profitable commercial relations between the United States and Italy, as well as a friendly understanding of their respective policies and interests.

Mussolini replied to the President on June 1 through his Foreign Minister. Mussolini confirmed the Foreign Minister's statement that the decision to enter the war had already been taken. He said it was "of no concern to him" that the entry of Italy into the war would mean the redoubling of American efforts to help the allies. Finally, he said he preferred not to receive any "further pressure" from the President; this would only "stiffen his attitude".

German Invasion of the Low Countries

Meanwhile on May 10, 1940, despite repeated statements by Hitler that he would not violate the neutrality of Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, those three countries were treacherously attacked. On the same day President Roosevelt said, in an address at Washington to the Pan American Scientific Congress, that "we are shocked and angered" by this tragic news. He declared that we had come to the reluctant conclusion that a continuance of these processes of armed force presented a definite challenge to the type of civilization to which all in the three Americas had been accustomed. He said it was a mistaken idea that the American republics were wholly safe-physically, economically, and socially-from the impact of the attacks on civilization in other parts of the world.

The British and French immediately sent troops to the assistance of Belgium and the Netherlands. Nevertheless, with overwhelming superiority in aviation and tanks, the Germans quickly overpowered the Belgian and Netherlands armies. The British and French troops who had gone to their assistance had no alternatives but retreat or surrender, and in the last week of May began the heroic withdrawal from Dunkirk which left Hitler in complete mastery of the Low Countries.

The German armies then turned to drive against Paris. With superiority in weapons the Nazis relentlessly pushed their attacks until on June 10 they were almost at the gates of Paris. On that day Italy declared war against France and Great Britain.

United States Aid to Opponents of Force

President Roosevelt in an address of June 10, 1940 at Charlottesville, Virginia, declared that we as a nation-and likewise all the other American nations-were convinced that "military and naval victory for the gods of force and hate would endanger the institutions of democracy in the western world" and that all of our sympathies were with those nations that were giving their lifeblood in combat against these forces. He stated that two obvious and simultaneous courses would be followed: "We will extend to the opponents of force the material resources of this nation and, at the same time, we will harness and speed up the use of those resources in order that we ourselves in the Americas may have equipment and training equal to the task of any emergency and every defense."

The President stated in this address that Italy had now chosen to fulfill its promises to Germany; that in so doing it had manifested disregard for the rights and security of other nations and had evidenced its unwillingness to find peaceful means for satisfaction of what it believed to be its legitimate aspirations; that "the hand that held the dagger has struck it into the back of its neighbor". (165)
In line with the policy of extending aid to the opponents of force, the Government of the United States took immediate steps to send to the British and French large quantities of aircraft, rifles, field artillery, machine-guns, and ammunition.

French Appeal to the United States

On June 10, 1940 the French Premier, Paul Reynaud, made a direct appeal to the President for increased aid, at the same time expressing gratitude for the decision of the United States to send assistance in aviation and arms. The Premier said that the French would fight in front of Paris; would fight behind Paris; would close themselves in one of their provinces to fight and if driven out of it would establish themselves in North Africa to continue the fight, and if necessary, in French possessions in America. He urgently requested the President to declare publicly that the United States would give the allies aid and material support by all means "short of an expeditionary force".

President Roosevelt replied on June 13 that the Government of the United States was doing everything in its power to make available to the allied governments the material they urgently required and that our efforts to do still more were being redoubled; we were doing this because of our faith in and our support of the ideals for which the allies were fighting. The President said he was particularly impressed by the Premier's declaration that France would continue to fight on behalf of democracy, although it meant slow withdrawal, even to North Africa and across the Atlantic. He said it was important to remember that the French and British Fleets continued to have mastery of the Atlantic and other oceans and that vital materials from the outside world were necessary to maintain all armies.

The French Premier sent another message to the President on June 14, 1940, the day on which German troops entered Paris. The Premier said that "at the most tragic hour" of its history France must choose whether to continue resistance or ask for an armistice. He warned that the defeat of Great Britain appeared possible if not probable. The Premier said that the only chance of saving France, and through her to save Great Britain, was to throw into the balance "this very day the weight of American power". Finally, the Premier said that if the President could not give to France in the hours to come the certainty that the United States would enter the war within a very short time, "the fate of the world will change". "Then," he said, "you will see France go under like a drowning man and disappear after having cast a last look towards the land of liberty from which she awaited salvation."

President Roosevelt replied on the following day. He repeated emphatically that the Government of the United States had made it possible for the allied armies to obtain, during the weeks that had just passed, airplanes, artillery, and munitions of many kinds, and that so long as the allied governments continued to resist, this Government would redouble its efforts in that direction. He believed it was possible to say that every passing week would see additional war supplies on the way to the allied nations. The President said that in accordance with our policy not to recognize the results of conquests of territory acquired through military aggression, the United States would not consider as valid any attempts to infringe by force the independence and territorial integrity of France.

President Roosevelt assured the Premier that so long as the French people continued a defense of their liberty, so long would they rest assured that war supplies would be sent to them from the United States in ever-increasing quantities and kinds. He said, however, that these statements did not carry any implication of military commitments, that only Congress could make such commitments.

Fall of France

On June 17 the French Cabinet, headed by the new Premier, Marshal Petain, asked for the terms of an armistice with Germany.

On that day President Roosevelt sent a message to the French Government regarding the disposition of the French Fleet. He said that should the French Government, before concluding an armistice with the Germans, fail to see that the Fleet was kept out of the hands of France's opponents, the French Government would be pursuing a policy which would fatally impair the preservation of the French Empire and the eventual restoration of French independence. Furthermore, the President said, should the French Government fail to take steps to prevent the French Fleet from being surrendered to Germany, "the French Government will permanently lose the friendship and good-will of the Government of the United States".

On the following day, June 18, the United States Government received from the French Government a categorical assurance that the French Fleet would "never be surrendered to the enemy".

Monroe Doctrine

Immediately following the French request for the terms of an armistice with Germany, the Governments of Italy, Germany, France, Great Britain, and the Netherlands were informed by this Government that in accordance with the traditional policy of the United States relating to the Western Hemisphere the United States would not recognize any transfer, and would not acquiesce in any attempt to transfer, any geographic region of the Western Hemisphere from one non-American power to another non-American power.

In connection with this subject, Secretary Hull stated on July 5, 1940 that the "Monroe Doctrine is solely a policy of self-defense, which is intended to preserve the independence and integrity of the Americas". The Secretary said that its purpose was to prevent aggression in this hemisphere by any non-American power, and likewise to make impossible any further extension to this hemisphere of any non-American system of government imposed from without; that it contained within it "not the slightest vestige of any implication, much less assumption, of hegemony on the part of the United States". The Secretary said further that the Monroe Doctrine did not resemble policies which appeared to be arising in other parts of the world, which policies were alleged to be similar to the Monroe Doctrine, but which in reality seemed to be only "the pretext for the carrying out of conquest by the sword, of military occupation, and of complete economic and political domination by certain powers of other free and independent peoples".


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.71-78


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