EUROPEAN WAR 1941


The Four Freedoms

IN HIS ADDRESS to Congress on January 6, 1941 President Roosevelt declared that "at no previous time has American security been as seriously threatened from without as it is today". The democratic way of life was being directly assailed "by arms; or by secret spreading of poisonous propaganda" in every part of the world. The President said that the assault had blotted out the whole pattern of democratic life in an appalling number of independent nations and that the assailants were still on the march threatening other nations, great and small. Armed defense of democratic existence was being waged on four continents; if that defense failed, all the population and all the resources of Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australasia would be dominated by the conquerors.

The President defined our national policy as follows: We were committed to an all-inclusive national defense; we were committed to full support of resolute peoples everywhere who were resisting aggression and were thereby keeping war away from our hemisphere; and we were committed to the proposition that principles of morality and considerations for our own security would "never permit us to acquiesce in a peace dictated by aggressors and sponsored by appeasers".

President Roosevelt said that we looked forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms: Freedom of speech and expression; freedom of every person to worship God in his own way; freedom from want-which meant economic understandings that would secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants; freedom from fear-which meant a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point that no nation would be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor. These four essential human freedoms constituted a definite basis for the kind of world attainable in our own time and generation, the kind of world which is "the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb".

The President's budget message of this month, January 1941, called for the expenditure of approximately $11,000,000,000 for the national-defense program. This raised to $28,000,000,000 the estimated outlay for the defense program inaugurated in May 1940.

Lend-Lease Act

Early in January 1941 there was introduced in Congress a bill to enable the Government to furnish aid to nations whose defense was deemed by the President to be vital to the defense of the United States. Both Houses of Congress held extensive public hearings on the bill. Secretary Hull made a statement before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on January 15 in support of the bill. In this statement the Secretary declared that it had become increasingly apparent that mankind was face to face with an organized, ruthless, and implacable movement of steadily-expanding conquest; that we were in the presence of forces which were not restrained by considerations of law or principles of morality; that these forces had no fixed limits for their program of conquest; that they had spread over large areas on land and were desperately struggling to seize control of the oceans as an essential means of achieving and maintaining the conquest of other continents. The Secretary stated that control of the high seas by law-abiding nations "is the key to the security of the Western Hemisphere"; that should such control be gained by the Axis powers, the danger to the United States "would be multiplied many-fold". The most serious question for the United States, the Secretary said, was whether the control of the high seas would pass into the hands of powers bent on a program of unlimited conquest.

The Secretary felt that on no other question of public policy were the people of the United States so nearly unanimous and so emphatic as they were on that of the imperative need, in our own most vital interest, to give Great Britain and other victims of attack the maximum of material aid in the shortest possible space of time. This was so because it was clear that such assistance to those resisting attack was a vital part of our national self-defense. The bill before the Committee, he said, known as the Lend-Lease bill, provided for machinery which would enable the United States to make the most effective use of our resources for our own needs and for those whom, in our own self-defense, we were determined to aid. The Secretary expressed the belief that this bill would make it possible for us to allocate our resources in ways best calculated to provide for the security of the United States and of this continent.

The Lend-Lease bill became law with the signature of the President on March 11, 1941. Immediately thereafter the President requested an appropriation of $7,000,000,000 to accomplish the objectives of the act, and that appropriation was speedily made.

In an address on March 15 President Roosevelt stated that the decision embodied in the Lend-Lease Act ended the urging that we get along with the dictators and ended the compromise with tyranny and the forces of oppression. When our production output was in full swing, he said, the democracies of the world would be able to prove that dictators could not win. The time element he considered of "supreme importance". Every plane, every other instrument of war, old and new, which we could spare would be sent overseas; the great task of the day, the deep duty which rested upon us, was to "move products from the assembly lines of our factories to the battle lines of democracies-Now!"

The President said that the Nazi forces were not asking mere modifications in colonial maps or in minor European boundaries; that they openly sought the destruction of all elective systems of government on every continent-including our own; that they sought to establish systems of government based on the regimentation of all human beings by a handful of individual rulers who had seized power by force.

The nation, he said, was calling for the sacrifice of some privileges but not for the sacrifice of fundamental rights. Referring to the four freedoms set forth in his January address, the President said that they might not be immediately attainable throughout the world but "humanity does move towards those ideals through democratic processes". If we failed and democracy were superseded by slavery, "then those four freedoms or even the mention of them will become forbidden things".

There was no longer any doubt, he said, that our people recognized the seriousness of the international situation. That was why they had demanded and obtained "a policy of unqualified, immediate, all-out aid for Britain, Greece, China, and for all the governments in exile whose homelands are temporarily occupied by the aggressors". Aid would be increased, he emphasized, "and yet again increased", until total victory had been won.

In instructions shortly thereafter to United States diplomatic missions in several neutral European countries, the Secretary of State said that every effort should be made to see that this authoritative statement by the President of our position was circulated as widely as possible. He said a salutary effect on public and official opinion in countries which had not been drawn directly into the war, would result from a forceful, continuous presentation of the position of the United States and of the scope of our national effort and determination to resist aggression. Such a presentation also would be of great assistance in counteracting totalitarian propaganda. The missions were to stress that we were absolutely convinced that the forces of aggression would be defeated. It had been made abundantly clear by our people and Government, the Secretary said, that we intended to play our part in resistance against the forces of aggression. Therefore, it was incumbent upon every representative of the United States and upon every United States citizen abroad to reflect "the absolute determination" of the United States to "see this thing through".

Invasion of Greece and Yugoslavia

In October 1940 Italy had launched an unprovoked and ruthless attack on Greece. While the neutrality of the United States was proclaimed in the ensuing war between Greece and Italy, Minister MacVeagh at Athens was instructed on November 16 to inform the Greek Government that this action should be construed in no way as being an indication of any lessening of the sympathy of the United States for Greece in its conflict with Italy. In December 1940 President Roosevelt in a message to the King of Greece expressed the deep impression which had been made upon all free peoples by the courage and steadfastness of the Greek nation and assured him that, in line with our policy of furnishing aid to nations defending themselves against aggression, steps were being taken to extend such aid to Greece.

Despite numerical superiority of the Italian forces the brave resistance of the Greeks was successful during the following months. By the beginning of 1941 the Italian forces were retreating into Albania. Meanwhile, the German Government was preparing to join the Italian attack on Greece and at the same time attempting to coerce Yugoslavia into adhering to the Tripartite Pact.

On February 9, 1941 Secretary Hull sent a message to our Minister to Yugoslavia making clear the position of the United States with respect to the developing world situation. The Secretary referred to the President's statement that "we are planning our own defense with the utmost urgency and in its vast scale we must integrate the war needs of Britain". This position, he said, continued to be the keystone of the national-defense policy of the United States; we were convinced that Great Britain would win. War-material production in the United States had been undertaken on a vast scale to meet the requirements of the British and would continue ever increasingly until the final victory.

A week later, on February 14, President Roosevelt sent a message to the Yugoslav Government, expressing his conviction that any victory on behalf of the predatory powers, even if only in the diplomatic field, would pave the way for fresh demands accompanied by threats of force against the very independence of the nation thus menaced. He called attention to the Lend-Lease bill before Congress which would authorize the President to supply war materials to nations victims of aggression or threatened with aggression.

The constant pressure exercised by Hitler on Yugoslavia resulted in the adherence by the Yugoslav Government on March 25, 1941 to the Axis Tripartite Pact. However, this act was promptly repudiated by the government formed in Yugoslavia as a result of an anti-Axis coup d'etat on the following day. Hitler's legions thereupon prepared to march on Yugoslavia. It was at this point that the Secretary of State, on April 5, 1941, sent instructions to the United States Ministers in Bulgaria, Hungary, and Rumania, which countries had already adhered to the Axis Tripartite Pact. In these instructions the Secretary asked the Ministers to use their good offices to the end that the governments to which they were accredited might understand how support given acts of aggression against Yugoslavia was bound to be regarded in the United States. The Secretary emphasized that our every effort was being exerted under existing law to assist the nations which were defending their integrity and independence against aggression.

On the following day, April 6, the German armies launched an attack on Yugoslavia and Greece. On that day Secretary Hull said that in line with its policy of assisting those nations defending themselves against aggression, this Government was proceeding as speedily as possible to send military and other supplies to Yugoslavia.

Despite stout resistance, the German armies, supported by their Italian, Hungarian, and Bulgarian satellites, overran a large part of Yugoslavia and Greece.

Greenland Agreement

The Department of State announced on April 10, 1941 the signing on the day before of an agreement regarding Greenland. This agreement recognized that as a result of the European war there was danger that Greenland might be converted into a point of aggression against nations of the American Continent, and accepted the responsibility on behalf of the United States of assisting Greenland in the maintenance of its existing status. The agreement, after explicitly recognizing Danish sovereignty over Greenland, granted to the United States the right to locate and construct airplane landing fields and facilities for the defense of Greenland and of the American Continent. In announcing this agreement the Department stated that the United States had no thought "save that of assuring the safety of Greenland and the rest of the American Continent, and Greenland's continuance under Danish sovereignty"; that it was recognized that so long as Denmark remained under German occupation the Government in Denmark could not exercise the Danish sovereign powers over Greenland under the Monroe Doctrine. The agreement was signed by the Secretary of State and by the Danish Minister in Washington, acting as representative of the King of Denmark in his capacity as Sovereign of Greenland, and with the concurrence of the Governors of Greenland.

The Department announced that this step was taken in furtherance of the traditional friendliness between Denmark and the United States; that the policy of the United States was that of defending for Denmark her sovereignty over Greenland so that she might have a full exercise of it as soon as the German invasion of Denmark was ended. Accordingly the agreement provided that as soon as the war was over and the danger had passed, the two Governments should promptly consult as to whether the arrangements made by this agreement should continue or should then cease.

Secretary Hull's Address of April 24

In an address on April 24, 1941 Secretary Hull stated that unfortunately many people failed to grasp the nature of the world-wide crisis and its meaning to our own country. Too many people assumed, he said, that the present struggle was merely an ordinary regional war and that when it came to an end the victorious nations would collect indemnities but otherwise leave the defeated nations more or less as they were before the conflict began. This assumption, he said, would prove "entirely erroneous" if the aggressors should win the war; the would-be conquerors proposed to take unto themselves the territory, the sovereignty, and the possessions of every conquered nation; they proposed to make the people of each nation into serfs-"to extinguish their liberties, their rights, their law, and their religion".

The Secretary declared that the aggressors not only did not wish peace but literally did not believe in it; that behind the deceptive protection of the word "peace" they accumulated vast striking forces; they infiltrated shock troops disguised as peaceful travelers and businessmen; they set up organizations for spying, sabotage, and propaganda; they endeavored to sow hatred and discord; they used every tool of economic attack, bribery, and corruption to weaken the countries with which they were at "peace" until a military movement could easily complete the task of subjugation. Peace of that type was nothing more than a "trap" into which many nations had fallen in earlier phases of this movement for world conquest when its true nature had not been understood.

The Secretary warned that it made a "fateful difference" to us who won this war-the difference whether we would stand with our backs to the wall with the other four continents against us and the high seas lost, alone defending the last free territories on earth, or whether we would keep our place in an orderly world. Those who felt that a British defeat would not matter to us overlooked the fact that the resulting delivery of the high seas to the invader would create colossal danger to our own national defense and security. The breadth of the sea might give us a little time but it did not give us safety. Safety could only come from our ability, in conjunction with other peace-loving nations, "to prevent any aggressor from attaining control of the high seas".

Some people contended, he said, that our country need not resist until the armed forces of the invader should have crossed the border of this hemisphere. To him this merely meant that there would be no resistance by the hemisphere, including the United States, until the invading countries had acquired complete control of the other four continents and of the high seas, and thus had obtained every possible strategic advantage. This he considered an "utterly short-sighted and extremely dangerous view"; events had shown beyond question that the safety of this hemisphere and of this country called for "resistance wherever resistance will be most effective".

With reference to the question whether aid to freedom-loving nations and a vigorous policy of defending our interests would irritate some aggressor into attacking us, the Secretary said that no nation would attack us merely because it was our policy to defend ourselves; aggressors were not going to let us alone merely because we attempted to placate them. In the philosophy of the conquerors an attack was justified whenever and wherever it looked easy and convenient and served their purposes; there was no possible safeguarding of our security except by "solid strength". He declared that the best and only way of allaying the fears and doubts of those in anxiety was for to rise in our might and proceed as one man in the Herculean task of equipping this nation to the fullest for its self-defense".

Unlimited National Emergency

On May 27, 1941 President Roosevelt proclaimed the existence of an "unlimited national emergency", and in a radio address on the same day he outlined the policy of the United States in the light of developments in the world situation. In this address the President declared that our whole program of aid for the democracies had been "based on a hard-headed concern for our own security and for the kind of safe and civilized world in which we wish to live"; that every dollar of material we sent helped to keep the dictators away from our own hemisphere; that every day they were held off gave us time to build more guns and tanks and planes and ships.

The President warned of the conditions which would exist should Hitler be victorious in the war: Germany would set up puppet governments of its own choosing, wholly subject to its own will; the dictatorships would force the enslaved peoples of their Old World conquests into a system they were then organizing-to build a naval and air force intended to obtain mastery of the Atlantic and the Pacific; an economic stranglehold would be fastened upon the nations of the Western Hemisphere; the American laborer would have to compete with slave labor in the rest of the world, and trade unions would become "historical relics"; the American farmer would face obvious disaster and complete regimentation; the whole fabric of business, manufacturing, mining, and agriculture would be mangled and crippled; a permanent conscription of our manpower would be necessary, and our resources would be permanently poured into armaments. We did not accept and we would not permit this Nazi "shape of things to come".

The Axis powers could never achieve their objective of world domination, the President said, "unless they first obtain control of the seas". If they failed to gain control of the seas they were "certainly defeated". The President then described the dangerous situation in the "battle of the Atlantic". He revealed that the rate of Nazi sinkings of merchant ships was more than three times as high as the capacity of British shipyards to replace those ships; the rate was more than twice the combined British and American output of merchant ships at that time. This peril could be met, he said, by speeding up and increasing our great shipbuilding program and by helping to cut down the losses on the high seas. He announced that we had extended our patrol in North and South Atlantic waters; that we were adding steadily more and more ships to that patrol. The purpose of these ships and planes was to "warn of the presence of attacking raiders, on the sea, under the sea, and above the sea".

The President summed up our national policy as follows: We would actively resist wherever necessary and with all our resources every attempt by Hitler to extend his domination to the Western Hemisphere; we would actively resist his every attempt to gain control of the seas; we would insist upon the vital importance of keeping Hitlerism away from any point in the world which could be used and would be used as a base of attack against the Americas; we would give every possible assistance to Great Britain and all countries which, like Great Britain, were resisting Hitlerism or its equivalent with force of arms; our patrols were helping to insure delivery of the needed supplies to Great Britain, and all additional measures necessary to deliver the goods would be taken.

We in the Americas would decide for ourselves, the President said, whether and when and where our American interests were attacked or our security threatened. We were placing our armed forces in strategic military posts and would not hesitate to use them to repel attack. In conclusion, the President repeated the words of the signers of the Declaration of Independence: "With a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor".

Policy Toward France

The policy of the United States toward France in its broad aspects was based primarily on steady opposition to German aggression. After the fall of France and the conclusion of the French-German armistice this policy was specifically directed toward (1) denial of the French Fleet and French naval and air bases to the Axis powers; (2) closest practicable cooperation with the French people for the purpose of aiding them to keep alive their aspirations for liberty and democracy and to attain their earliest possible liberation from their conquerors; and (3) constant exertion of influence against French collaboration, voluntary or involuntary, with Hitler and Hitlerism. Another vital consideration was the need of keeping the French people reminded that their commitments under the terms of the French German armistice strictly defined the limits to which they, the French, were obligated as regards Germany.

The first fruit of continuing contact with the French Government was its pledge given on June 18, 1940, and repeated subsequent to the French-German armistice, that the French Fleet would "never be surrendered to the enemy".

On November 4, 1940, following indications of French collaboration with Germany, Secretary of State Hull conferred with French Ambassador Henry-Haye. The Secretary declared that "we propose to be on our guard" with respect to acts of the Vichy Government, inspired by Foreign Minister Laval, that were intended to aid the military activities of Hitler, such as the supplying of naval and air bases, or other help given by French military or naval forces. He said that while this Government recognized the unfortunate situation of France as a "captive nation" it maintained that the French Government had no justification to render the slightest military aid to Germany. The Secretary referred to what he called the "extreme pro-German plans" of Laval and said that there could be no appeasement of Hitler, that Hitler would do what he pleased with all of his captive nations regardless of whether they offered him gifts and other considerations. He declared that the United States was too much concerned with possible future attacks by Hitler to acquiesce in the slightest degree in acts of the French Government that would aid Hitler in wider conquests, particularly in the direction of the Western Hemisphere.

In June 1941, when Germany was exercising increasing pressure upon the French Government at Vichy in order to obtain assistance from that Government in the conduct of the war, Secretary Hull, in a statement of June 5, reviewed the policy of the United States with respect to France. Throughout our history, the Secretary said, we had been sympathetic to the true aspirations of France; we had fought beside France; France's cause had been our cause; the principles of free representative government by the people had been the bases of the democratic institutions of both countries. We had, he said, consistently conveyed to the French Government our understanding of the difficulty of their position and our determination to be of every assistance we could in solving their problems for the ultimate benefit of the French people. We had made clear to the French Government that the basic policy of the United States was to aid Great Britain in her defense against the same forces of conquest which had invaded and were subjugating France. We had aided in the furnishing of foodstuffs for unoccupied France, and children's supplies were now being distributed through the American Red Cross. We had collaborated in safeguarding the welfare and maintaining the integrity of the French possessions in the Western Hemisphere. In cooperation with the French Government we had helped in supplying commodities urgently needed for the economic stability of French North Africa. The Vichy Government had been assured that the United States had no interest in any territories of the French Empire other than their preservation for the French people.

It had been the determined policy of this Government, the Secretary said, to continue friendly and helpful cooperation with France in the existing difficult situation in which French action was restricted and limited by the terms of the armistices with Germany and Italy. It seemed scarcely believable, he said, that the French Government should adopt a policy of collaboration with other powers for the purpose of aggression and oppression; such action would not only be yielding priceless rights and interests beyond the requirements of a harsh armistice, but would at once place France in substantial political and military subservience and would also make France in part an instrument of aggression; this could only be "utterly inimical to the just rights of other countries, to say nothing of its ultimate effects on the liberties, the true interests, and the welfare of the people of France".

Despite the collapse of resistance in France in June 1940 a number of French soldiers and sailors had continued to maintain the struggle against Germany on land and sea under the name of the "Free French". Portions of the French colonial empire rallied to their support. The Government of the United States entered into working arrangements with the Free French authorities in control of such territories, and a Free French delegation was established at Washington. In November 1941, President Roosevelt, finding that the defense of territory under control of Free French authorities was vital to the defense of the United States, directed that Lend-Lease aid be extended to them. This aid was given in such forms as the repair of naval vessels in American shipyards and the supply of tanks and other munitions to land forces.

The "Robin Moor"

In a message to the Congress on June 20, 1941 the President reported that on May 21 a German submarine had sunk an American merchant vessel, the Robin Moor, in the South Atlantic Ocean, while the vessel was on the high seas en route to South Africa. The vessel had been sunk within 30 minutes from the time of the first warning; it was sunk without provision for the safety of the passengers and crew, who were left afloat in small lifeboats from two to three weeks until they were accidentally discovered and rescued by friendly vessels. He said that the "total disregard shown for the most elementary principles of international law and humanity brands the sinking of the Robin Moor as the act of an international outlaw"; that the United States held Germany responsible for this "outrageous and indefensible sinking"; that full reparation for the losses and damages suffered by American nationals would be expected from the German Government. This Government, the President continued, could only assume that Germany hoped, through the commission of such acts of cruelty, to intimidate the United States and other nations into a course of non-resistance to German plans of universal conquest. He said that the United States would not be intimidated, nor would it acquiesce in the plans of the German leaders for world domination.

German Attack on Russia

In the winter of 1940-41 this Government received reports that Germany intended to attack the Soviet Union, despite the existence of the German-Russian non-aggression pact. This information was conveyed by Under Secretary Welles to the Soviet Ambassador early in 1941. On March 20, 1941 Mr. Welles informed the Ambassador that this Government had additional information in confirmation of the report that Germany intended to attack the Soviet Union.

Hitler's treacherous attack on the Soviet Union occurred on June 22, 1941, when Germany launched an offensive along a front extending from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. In a public statement on the following day Acting Secretary Welles stated that to the leaders of the German Reich solemn pledges such as non-aggression pacts were "but a symbol of deceit, and constitute a dire warning on the part of Germany of hostile and murderous intent"; that to the German Government the very meaning of the word "honor" was unknown. The Acting Secretary said that the immediate issue presenting itself to the people of the United States was whether Hitler's plan for universal conquest and for the ultimate destruction of the remaining free democracies was to be successfully halted and defeated. He said that in the opinion of this Government any defense against Hitlerism, any rallying of the forces opposing Hitlerism, from whatever sources they might spring, would hasten the eventual downfall of the German leaders and would therefore redound to the benefit of our own defense and security. Finally, the Acting Secretary declared, "Hitler's armies are today the chief dangers of the Americas".

Agreement With Iceland

President Roosevelt announced to the Congress on July 7, 1941 that in accordance with an understanding reached with the Prime Minister of Iceland, forces of the United States had arrived in Iceland in order to supplement, and eventually to replace, the British forces which had been stationed there to insure the adequate defense of that country. The President said that the United States could not permit the occupation by Germany of strategic outposts in the Atlantic, to be used as air or naval bases for eventual attack against the Western Hemisphere; that we had no desire to see any change in the existing sovereignty of those regions; that assurance that such outposts in our defense frontier remain in friendly hands was the very foundation of our national security and of the national security of every independent nation in the New World. It was imperative, therefore, that the approaches between the Americas and those strategic outposts should remain open and free from all hostile activity or threat. As Commander in Chief the President had issued orders to the Navy that all necessary steps be taken to insure the safety of communications in the approaches between Iceland and the United States, as well as on the seas between the United States and all other strategic outposts. This Government, the President said, would insure the adequate defense of Iceland with full recognition of the independence of Iceland as a sovereign state. He had given assurance to the Prime Minister of Iceland that the American forces sent there would in no way interfere with the internal and domestic affairs of that country, and that immediately upon the termination of the international emergency all American forces would be at once withdrawn, leaving the people of Iceland and their Government in full and sovereign control of their own territory.

Atlantic Charter

President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill met at sea in August 1941. At this conference they examined the whole problem of the supplying of munitions of war, as provided by the Lend-Lease Act, for the armed forces of the United States and for the countries actively engaged in resisting aggression. Deeming it "right to make known certain common principles in the national policies of their respective countries on which they base their hopes for a better future for the world", they agreed on the joint declaration of August 14, 1941 which has become known as the "Atlantic Charter", as this conference took place on the Atlantic Ocean:

"First, their countries seek no aggrandizement, territorial or other;

"Second, they desire to see no territorial changes that do not accord with the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned;

"Third, they respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live; and they wish to see sovereign rights and self-government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them;

"Fourth, they will endeavor, with due respect for their existing obligations, to further the enjoyment by all States, great or small, victor or vanquished, of access, on equal terms, to the trade and to the raw materials of the world which are needed for their economic prosperity;

"Fifth, they desire to bring about the fullest collaboration between all nations in the economic field with the object of securing, for all, improved labor standards, economic advancement, and social security;

"Sixth, after the final destruction of the Nazi tyranny, they hope to see established a peace which will afford to all nations the means of dwelling in safety within their own boundaries, and which will afford assurance that all the men in all the lands may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want;

"Seventh, such a peace should enable all men to traverse the high seas and oceans without hindrance;

"Eighth, they believe that all of the nations of the world, for realistic as well as spiritual reasons, must come to the abandonment of the use of force. Since no future peace can be maintained if land, sea or air armaments continue to be employed by nations which threaten, or may threaten, aggression outside of their frontiers, they believe, pending the establishment of a wider and permanent system of general security, that the disarmament of such nations is essential. They will likewise aid and encourage all other practicable measures which will lighten for peace-loving peoples the crushing burden of armaments."

In reporting this joint declaration to the Congress the President said that it presented a goal which was "worthwhile for our type of civilization to seek". The declaration was so clear-cut, he said, that it was difficult to oppose it in any major particular without automatically admitting a willingness to accept compromise with Nazi-ism or to agree to a world peace which would give to Nazi-ism domination over large numbers of conquered nations. The President pointed out that the declaration included, of necessity, "the world need for freedom of religion and freedom of information".

This Government has frequently expressed its view that after hostilities have ended, the nations contributing to the defeat of the common enemy should join together in an effort to restore peace and order on the basis of the general principles laid down in the Atlantic Charter; that meanwhile we expect a continuation of discussions between the several governments looking to the fullest possible agreement on basic policies and to later arrangements at the proper time; and that, above all, there must not be any "secret agreements".

Aid to Russia

On August 15, 1941 a joint message from President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill was delivered to Joseph Stalin, President of the People's Commissars of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. In this message the President and the Prime Minister said that they had consulted together as to how best their two countries could help the Soviet Union; that they were cooperating to provide the Soviet Union with the very maximum of supplies most urgently needed; that many shiploads had left already for the Soviet Union and more would leave in the immediate future. In order that all concerned might be in a position to arrive at speedy decisions as to the apportionment of joint resources, they suggested that a meeting of representatives of the three Governments be held at Moscow. Realizing how vitally important to the defeat of Hitlerism was "the brave and steadfast resistance of the Soviet Union", they felt that they must act "quickly and immediately in this matter on planning the program for the future allocation of our joint resources." The conference was agreed to and was held in Moscow shortly thereafter.

Battle of the Atlantic

By September 1941 the Axis war against shipping had resulted in several incidents that clearly demonstrated the grave menace to the vital interests of the United States. Two United States-owned merchant ships under the flag of Panama, the Sessa and the Montana, had been torpedoed and sunk while carrying cargoes to Iceland, where the United States had established a defense outpost. A United States merchant ship en route to Suez, the Steel Seafarer, had been sunk in the Red Sea by a German aircraft. On September 4 the United States destroyer Greer had been attacked by a German submarine while carrying mail to Iceland.

On September 11, 1941, in a radio address, President Roosevelt denounced these "acts of international lawlessness" as a manifestation of the Nazi design to abolish the freedom of the seas and to acquire the domination of the seas for themselves. It would be unworthy, he said, for a great nation to exaggerate an isolated incident but it would be "inexcusable folly to minimize such incidents in the face of evidence which makes it clear that the incident is not isolated, but part of a general plan"; for with the control of the seas by the Nazis the way could become clear for their next step-domination of the United States and the Western Hemisphere by force. Under Nazi control of the seas no merchant ship of the United States or of any other American republic would be free to carry on any peaceful commerce, "except by the condescending grace of this foreign and tyrannical power". To be ultimately successful in world mastery, Hitler knew that he must get control of the seas, that he must first destroy the bridge of ships which we were building across the Atlantic, over which we would continue to roll the implements of war "to help destroy him and all his works in the end". He must wipe out our patrol on sea and in the air, and-he must silence the British Navy. The President said that the United States Navy was "an invincible protection" only if the British Navy survived; that if the world outside the Americas fell under Axis domination. the shipbuilding facilities which the Axis powers would then possess in all of Europe, in the British Isles, and in the Far East would be two or three times greater than all the shipbuilding facilities and possibilities of all the Americas. Even if the United States threw all its resources into such a situation, seeking to double and even redouble the size of our Navy, the Axis powers, in control of the rest of the world, "would have the manpower and the physical resources to out build us several times over".

Generation after generation, the President said, America had fought for the freedom of the seas, which meant that "no nation has the right to make the broad oceans of the world, at great distances from the actual theater of land war, unsafe for the commerce of others". The President stated that no act of violence or intimidation would keep us from maintaining intact two bulwarks of defense: our line of supply to Hitler's enemies and the freedom of our shipping on the high seas. We would "keep open the line of legitimate commerce in these defensive waters". We had sought no shooting war with Hitler and did not seek it "now", but we did not want peace so much that we were willing to pay for it by permitting him to attack our naval or merchant vessels when they were on legitimate business.

President Roosevelt declared that the very presence of Axis submarines or raiders in any waters which America deemed vital to its defense constituted an attack. In these waters, the President said, American naval vessels and American planes will no longer wait until Axis submarines lurking under the water, or Axis raiders on the surface of the sea, strike their deadly blow-first". Our naval and air patrol operating over a vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean would protect all merchant ships engaged in commerce in our defensive waters. It was no act of war on our part when we decided to protect the seas which were vital to American defense; the aggression was not ours. The President warned that from then on, if German or Italian vessels of war entered the waters the protection of which was necessary for American defense, they would do so "at their own peril". The sole responsibility rested upon Germany; there would be "no shooting" unless Germany continued to seek it.

Finally, the President said that he had no illusions about the gravity of this step; that he had not taken it hurriedly or lightly; that it was the result of many months of constant thought and anxiety and prayer; that in the protection of the nation it could not be avoided.

Revision of the Neutrality Act

Ships of the United States and of other American republics continued to be sunk in the Atlantic Ocean by Nazi submarines. In view of this situation and in view of the fact that the Neutrality Act of 1939 prohibited the arming of United States merchant ships engaged in foreign commerce and prevented United States merchant ships from carrying cargoes to belligerent ports, it became increasingly difficult to obtain shipping for the carriage of Lend-Lease supplies to Great Britain and to other nations whose defense was considered vital to the defense of the United States.

On October 9, 1941 the President asked Congress to modify the Neutrality Act. In his message the President said that the act had been passed at a time when few people visualized the true magnitude of the Nazi attempt to dominate the world; that it required a complete reconsideration in the light of known facts. He recommended the repeal of section 6, which prohibited the arming of United States flag-ships engaged in foreign commerce. He said that the practice of arming merchant ships for defense had never been prohibited by international law; that there was now an imperative need to equip United States merchant vessels with arms. He declared that we were faced with modern pirates of the sea who were destroying defenseless ships without warning and without provision for the safety of the passengers and crews; that our merchant vessels were sailing the seas on missions connected with the defense of the United States; that it was not just for the crews of these vessels to be denied the means of defending their lives and their ships. Although the arming of merchant vessels did not guarantee their safety, the President said, it certainly added to their safety. He emphasized that the arming of our ships was a matter of "immediate necessity, and extreme urgency".

The President then said that there were other phases of the Neutrality Act to which he hoped Congress would give earnest and early attention. While most of the vital Lend-Lease goods were being delivered, many of them were being sunk; as we approached full production requiring the use of many ships being built, it would be increasingly necessary to deliver our goods under our own flag. We could not and should not depend on the strained resources of our friends to deliver our goods "nor should we be forced to masquerade American-owned ships behind the flags of our sister republics". By keeping our ships out of the ports of our own friends we were inviting control of the seas by the aggressors. The President asked that Congress carry out the true intent of the Lend-Lease Act by making it possible for the United States to help deliver the articles to those who were in a position effectively to use them. It was our duty as never before, he said, to extend more and more assistance and ever more swiftly to Great Britain, to Russia, and to all peoples fighting slavery; we would not let Hitler prescribe the waters of the world on which our ships might travel. We could not permit the affirmative defense of our rights to be annulled by sections of the Neutrality Act "which have no realism in the light of unscrupulous ambition of madmen".

Shortly after the President's delivery of this message, Secretary Hull made a statement before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in support of the proposal for modifying the Neutrality Act of 1939. At the outset of this statement of October 21 he said: The "paramount principle of national policy is the preservation of the safety and security of the nation"; the "highest right flowing from that principle is the right of self-defense"; this right "must now be invoked"; the key to that defense under existing conditions was to prevent Hitler from gaining control of the seas.

The Secretary reaffirmed that Hitler and his satellites were seeking to control the seas, particularly to sever the sea lanes which linked the United States "to the remaining free peoples". He believed, he said, that an indispensable part of our policy must be resolute self-defense on the high seas and that this called especially for protection of shipping on open sea lanes. When American ships were being "wantonly and unlawfully attacked with complete disregard of life and property" it was absurd to forego any legitimate measures that might be helpful toward self-defense. One of the greatest mistakes we could possibly make would be to base our policy upon an assumption that we were secure when, if the assumption should prove erroneous, the consequence thereof would "lay us completely open to hostile invasion".

The Congress passed, and the President approved on November 17, 1941, a joint resolution repealing sections 2, 3, and 6 of the Neutrality Act of 1939, thereby permitting United States vessels to be armed and to carry cargoes to belligerent ports anywhere.

"We Americans Have Cleared Our Decks and Taken Our Battle Stations"

Meanwhile, on October 17, 1941 the United States destroyer Kearny had been attacked and hit by a torpedo from a Nazi submarine and eleven men of the Navy were killed. President Roosevelt said in an address on October 27 that we had wished to avoid shooting but the shooting had begun and "history has recorded who fired the first shot". The purpose of Hitler's attack was, he said, to frighten the American people off the high seas; if our national policy were to be dominated by the fear of shooting, then all of our ships and those of the other American republics would have to be tied up in home harbors. Naturally we rejected that "absurd and insulting suggestion". Each day we were producing and providing more and more arms for the men who were fighting on actual battlefronts; it was this nation's will that these vital arms and supplies of all kinds should neither be locked up in American harbors nor sent to the bottom of the sea; it was the nation's will that "America shall deliver the goods". He emphasized that the orders to the United States Navy "to shoot on sight" were still in effect.

The forward march of Hitler and of Hitlerism could be stopped, the President said, and would be stopped; we were pledged to pull our own oar in the destruction of Hitlerism; when we had helped to end the curse of Hitlerism we would help to establish "a new peace which will give to decent people everywhere a better chance to live and prosper in security and in freedom and in faith".

The President concluded his address with a statement that in the face of this newest and greatest challenge "we Americans have cleared our decks and taken our battle stations"; we stood ready "in the defense of our nation and the faith of our fathers to do what God has given us the power to see as our full duty".


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.98-117


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