May 24, 2020

12° C, Overcast

Full Forecast

Help us deliver reliable news during this pandemic.

We are working tirelessly to bring you trusted information about COVID-19. Support our efforts by subscribing today.

No Thanks Subscribe

Already a subscriber?


Advertise With Us

Resilient Roosevelt understood Axis threat

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/4/2016 (1485 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

While the Second World War began in September 1939, the United States did not officially enter the conflict until December 1941.

Before its formal declaration of war, the U.S. was engaged in what American historian Marc Wortman calls a "shadow war" against the Axis powers — Nazi Germany, Italy and Japan.


Led by president Franklin D. Roosevelt, the U.S. provided aid to the nations fighting the Axis: Britain, China and, when it was invaded by Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union. But Roosevelt, pursuing what he called "aggressive nonbelligerence," was constrained by both law and public opinion. There was a constant tension between what Roosevelt wanted to do for Britain and the imperatives of domestic politics.

It is this tension Wortman unfolds in his admirable work of popular narrative history.

Roosevelt understood the strategic implications of modern aircraft and long-range warships. Because of the new military technology, events far from America’s shores could impact America’s security.

Thus Roosevelt believed a successful Nazi invasion of Britain, which was certainly possible in 1940 and the first half of 1941, would be a direct threat to America.

But the American people did not share Roosevelt’s strategic insight. Polls consistently showed overwhelming opposition to American involvement in the European war. And Congress reflected this isolationist temper, passing laws that inhibited Roosevelt’s ability to aid Britain.

Much of Wortman’s narrative details how Roosevelt circumvented these laws, incrementally involving America in the conflict, particularly in the North Atlantic, where German submarines were a menace to shipping.

Roosevelt’s greatest critic was the aviator and national celebrity, Charles Lindbergh, who was the principal spokesman of the America First Committee, a pressure group opposing American intervention in the war.

As Wortman writes, "the more effectively Lindbergh fought against intervention, the more Roosevelt felt the need to use the great power at his disposal to fight back to save democracy."

Wortman depicts the bitter debate between American isolationists and interventionists.

Roosevelt was determined to assist Britain and defeat the Axis powers. But he was reluctant to make a formal declaration of war. He was, after all, a politician in a democracy who had to be sensitive to public opinion, and the American public was solidly against intervention.

But with the Japanese attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the nation was unequivocally at war, and the public and politicians rallied to the war effort. For America, the "shadow war" was over, and the real, shooting war had begun.

Roosevelt is clearly the protagonist of Wortman’s account.

In an isolationist political culture, facing a hostile Congress, the president maneuvered effectively to succor Britain, knowing that British survival, in the changed conditions of 20th-century warfare, was essential to American security. Roosevelt’s delicate balance between global strategy and domestic politics is superbly depicted by Wortman.

Graeme Voyer is a Winnipeg writer.


Advertise With Us

The Free Press would like to thank our readers for their patience while comments were not available on our site. We're continuing to work with our commenting software provider on issues with the platform. In the meantime, if you're not able to see comments after logging in to our site, please try refreshing the page.

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.


Advertise With Us