(HRS) The United States in a Troubled World, 1920-1941


                   Benito Mussolini                Adolf Hitler                     Hideki Tojo

HRS Chapter 26 Study Guide

In this chapter, the authors seek to explain the instability of the world order in the 1920s and the coming of world war in the 1930s. Involvement in disarmament talks and arms limitation treaties, acceptance of the Kellogg-Briand Pact outlawing war, and international economic expansion by the United States serve as examples of the independent internationalist approach to foreign policy undertaken by the United States during the 1920s. These examples also illustrate the drawbacks of such an approach. United States acceptance of arms limitations treaties that did not limit the use of some of the most dangerous weapons of the age submarines, destroyers, and cruisers meant the continuation of rearmament. Acceptance of a treaty that outlawed war but had no enforcement provisions served a useful educational purpose but did not prevent war. International economic expansion, high United States tariff rates, United States policies concerning war debts and reparations, and the onset of the Great Depression caused an upsurge of economic nationalism and destabilized the international economy. Although Secretary of State Cordell Hull's attempts to move in the direction of economic internationalism were positive, they did not have a dramatic short-term impact.

In the 1920s, the United States altered its policy toward Latin America. Blatant military intervention no longer seemed to preserve American interests and maintain the order and stability so important to those interests. A new approach favored support for strong native leaders, training of the national guard in Latin American countries, continued economic expansion, Export-Import Bank loans, and political subversion. Evidence for this change in approach may be found through an examination of American policy toward the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Haiti, Cuba, and Puerto Rico during the 1920s and early 1930s. The Good Neighbor policy enhanced American power throughout the region but did not bring to Latin America the stable, democratic governments that the United States professed to desire. Mexico was a special case. In response to the expropriation controversy, President Roosevelt decided compromise was the best course of action.

As the depression, economic nationalism, and aggressive fascist states began slowly to carry Europe into the abyss of war, the United States continued to follow the policy of independent internationalism, as evidenced in American economic ties with the Soviet Union and diplomatic recognition of that country in 1933. At the same time, isolationist sentiment (the desire to remain aloof from European power struggles and war increased. Such sentiment found expression in the investigations of the Nye Committee, which attempted to prove that business interests had selfishly pulled the United States into the First World War. Although it failed to prove this assertion, the Nye Committee did find evidence of discreditable business practices during the 1920s and 1930s designed to increase arms sales. Furthermore, the chapter includes evidence of American business ties to Nazi Germany and fascist Italy. The publicity generated by the Nye Committee was in part responsible for passage of the Neutrality Acts of 1935, 1936, and 1937. Although Roosevelt supported these acts, events in Europe gradually convinced him that they should be revised and finally repealed.

In Japan, China, and a New Order in Asia, the authors discuss American interests in Asia and trace the deterioration of United States Japanese relations during the 1920s and 1930s. This discussion leads to the final section, U.S. Entry into World War II, where the authors focus on events in Europe and explain President Roosevelt's policies, which carried the United States from neutrality to undeclared war. In addition, we look at the deterioration of relations between the United States and Japan in the early 1940s. Ultimately, Japanese leaders decided that the United States stood in the way of its goal of creating the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. As a result, Japan launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. This attack led Congress to pass a formal declaration of war against Japan on December 8, 1941. Great Britain then declared war on Japan; and, three days later, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States.

Whirlpool of War: 1932-1941

1922 Benito Mussolini comes to power in Italy.

1931 Japanese forces invade Manchuria.

1933 Adolf Hitler is appointed chancellor of Germany. The Montevideo Conference.

1934?36 Nye hearings investigate the munitions industry.

1935 Mussolini sends Italian troops into Ethiopia. Spanish Civil War begins.
Nazis issue Nuremberg laws. Neutrality Act of 1935.

1936 German Wehrmacht seizes the Rhineland. Neutrality Act of 1936.

1937 Japan opens undeclared war on China. FDR's "quarantine" speech.
Neutrality Act of 1937.

1938 Kristallnacht. Hitler annexes Austria. Allies appease Hitler at the Munich Conference. Abraham Lincoln Brigade goes to Spain to fight for the Loyalists.
Uranium fission is discovered in Berlin.

1939 Franco's fascists defeat Loyalists in Spanish-American War. Hitler invades the rest of Czechoslovakia. Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact. Hitler invades Poland, launching World War II. Neutrality Act of 1939 allows sale of arms on "cash-and-carry" basis.

1940 Hitler invades Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg, and France. The Battle of Britain. FDR wins third presidential term. FDR negotiates destroyers-for-bases swap with Britain. Congress passes first peacetime conscription act. America First Committee formed. United States embargoes aviation-grade gasoline and metal scrap to Japan. Japan joins Germany and Italy in the Tripartite Pact.

1941 Congress passes lend-lease bill. Hitler invades the Soviet Union; United States makes USSR eligible for lend-lease. Roosevelt and Churchill issue Atlantic Charter. Roosevelt authorizes Navy escorts for British merchant shipping. German U-boat attacks the Greer. Congress repeals last vestiges of the Neutrality Acts. Japan occupies French Indochina. United States freezes Japanese assets in the United States. Japan attacks U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor. United States declares war on Japan. Germany and Italy declare war on the United States

War and Diplomacy:
During this period, the United States was faced with the dual challenge of dealing with the issues remaining from World War I as well as the emerging challenges as the world prepared for a second global conflict throughout the 1930s. American leaders rejected Wilson's plan for the United States to play a leading role in the League of Nations as a part of the former president's plan to create a world order based on international cooperation. At the same time, Republican presidents during the 1920s wanted to safeguard American security and ensure the success of American business interests abroad. During the Great Depression, as another major war became more and more likely, President Hoover and his successor, Franklin Roosevelt, faced growing isolationist sentiment. Many Americans keenly remembered the nation's experiences during World War I, and felt that the nation had made significant sacrifices with little to show for them.

Globalization: Wilson had sought to promote American involvement throughout the globe as a way to ensure the nation's security and economic prosperity. His Republican successors, however, responded to the period's challenges by seeking to limit American involvement abroad in many ways. Following the onset of the Great Depression in 1929 and viewing its growing severity, American leaders chose to put into place extremely high tariffs to protect American markets. They chose to believe that the Depression was caused by the weakness of European economies, and that the United States could restore itself to prosperity by cutting itself off from Europe. Although Franklin Roosevelt would emerge as a dedicated internationalist by the late 1930s, he also chose to focus on solving the nation's economic problems and refused cooperation with European nations in seeking a program of global recovery.

George, J. & Brown, J. (2007). AP achiever: Advanced placement american history exam preparation guide.  McGraw Hill.

Digital History

Isolationism During the 1930s

During the 1920s, the United States tried to promote world peace through diplomatic means.In 1921, representatives from nine Asian and European nations met in Washington to discuss ways to ease tensions in the Pacific. The conference resulted in a 10-year moratorium on the construction of battleships and an agreement that for every five naval vessels owned by the United States or Britain, Japan could have three ships, and France and Italy could own one and three-fourths ships.In 1928, the French foreign minister, Aristide Briand, and Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg attempted to outlaw war. The Kellogg-Briand Pact, which was eventually signed by 62 nations, renounced war as an instrument for resolving international disputes. The Kellogg-Briand Pact lacked an enforcement mechanism. Cynics said the treaty had all the legal force of an "international kiss."

During the Great Depression isolationist sentiment surged. In 1935, some 150,000 college students participated in a nationwide Student Strike for Peace, and half a million signed pledges saying that they would refuse to serve in the event of war. A public opinion poll indicated that 39 percent of college students would refuse to participate in any war, even if the country was invaded. Anti-war sentiment was not confined to undergraduates. Disillusionment over World War I fed opposition to foreign entanglements. "We didn't win a thing we set out for in the last war," said Senator Gerald Nye of North Dakota. "We merely succeeded, with tremendous loss of life, to make secure the loans of private bankers to the Allies." The overwhelming majority of Americans agreed; an opinion poll in 1935 found that 70 percent of Americans believed that intervention in World War I had been a mistake. Isolationist ideas spread through American popular culture during the mid-1930s. The Book of the Month Club featured a volume titled Merchants of Death, which contended that the United States had been drawn into the European war by international arms manufacturers who had deliberately fomented conflict in order to market their products. From 1934 to 1936, a congressional committee, chaired by Senator Nye, investigated charges that false Allied propaganda and unscrupulous Wall Street bankers had dragged Americans into the European war. In April 1935--the 18th anniversary of American entry into World War I--50,000 veterans held a peace march in Washington, D.C.

Between 1935 and 1937, Congress passed three separate neutrality laws that clamped an embargo on arms sales to belligerents, forbade American ships from entering war zones and prohibited them from being armed, and barred Americans from traveling on belligerent ships. Clearly, Congress was determined not to repeat what it regarded as the mistakes that had plunged the United States into World War I. By 1938, however, pacifist sentiment was fading. A rapidly modernizing Japan was seeking to acquire raw materials and territory on the Asian mainland; a revived Germany was rebuilding its military power and acquiring land bloodlessly on its eastern borders; and Italy was trying to restore Roman glory through military might.  

Lecture Outlines

American Foreign Policy 1919-1941

The Rise of Totalitarianism 1930s

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