Historically Yours – FDR And the Lend-Lease Act

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill stated in September 1940: “Only one country – one man – might save Britain.” Adolph Hitler had crushed most of continental Europe, including France and was now focused on bringing England to its knees. Only the narrow English Channel separated the German war machine from England. Hitler’s strategy was for German bombers to continually pound Britain into submission, thus making invasion easy. Having left most of its artillery and tanks at Dunkirk, Britain was unprepared to withstand a German land invasion. Only the heroic efforts by the outnumbered Royal Air Force delayed Hitler’s invasion plans.

Aside from the horror of Hitler, President Roosevelt had personal reasons for aiding England. Hitler had aligned himself with naval power Japan and if Britain lost, the Axis powers “would control the oceans” and could isolate America from the rest of the world. Roosevelt realized that America had fewer troops than that of Switzerland and was unprepared for being “dragged” into war. For FDR, the crisis came at the worst time – he was running for re-election. The isolationists, a powerful force in American politics, opposed aid for England, pointing out about the danger of being dragged into the war, that two oceans separate us, and that Britain had failed to pay World War l debts owed America. A nationwide poll revealed that less than six percent of Americans “thought the country should fight.” FDR feared that the Congressional isolationists, who pledged to block any bills for gifts or loans for England, would desert him, resulting in a victory for the Republican nominee Wendell Willkie. FDR deferred decision while England faced annihilation.

Forced to decide, FDR agreed to help Churchill without introducing any new bills for Congressional approval. He exchanged destroyers for naval bases “under existing legislation,” concluding, “Even another day’s delay may mean the end of civilization.” Isolationists screamed about the “Dictator Roosevelt.” On November 5, 1940, Roosevelt won re-election but the remaining issue was an effective aid package over the opposition vote of the isolationists against gifts and loans.

Franklin answered: “Why not lease America’s Allies what they needed?” He explained his concept in homespun terms: “If my neighbor’s home catches fire and he needs my garden hose to save his home…lend it to him but I want my hose back when the fire is over.” He placed no limits on U.S. support. A historian called FDR’s Lend-Lease speech, “the most extreme commitment ever made by an American President.” After two months of a raging debate, Congress passed the Lend-Lease Bill on March 8, 1941 and FDR signed the Bill three days later. Hitler had a new enemy. Roosevelt declared isolation dead while massive American output helped saved England. Roosevelt and Churchill met August 1941. On parting, Churchill said of Roosevelt, “You have seen a great man this day.”

Sources: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, “Lend-Lease,” :History Central, “FDR And Lend Lease Amphora Edition, “FDR: The Lend – Lease,” :History Net MHQ – Military History Quarterly, “How Was FDR Able TO Get The Lend-Lease Act Passed,” by Mr. History: History.com, “FDR Signs Lend-Lease – March 11, 1941.

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