By Baudelier, Alan | Sea Classics, August 2012 | Go to article overview
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Baudelier, Alan, Sea Classics

Ever resourceful, President Roosevelt found an innovative way around America's neutrality laws to finance our Allies in WWII

It can be safely stated that few Americans alive today either recall or appreciate the genius of threeterm President Franklin Delano Roosevelt who led this country through two of worst periods in our history - the Great Depression of 1929 and the world's greatest conflict - World War II.

Though highly controversial at the time of its implementation, Roosevelt's ambitious "New Deal" of 1933 became the blueprint for America's recovery from its plight as a near bankrupt nation. Nowhere was Roosevelt's genius for finance and economics better demonstrated than in the many unique, far-sighted legislations he managed to successfully engineer and implement than in the Lend-Lease Act of 1940 which not only provided vitally needed war materials to our Allies, but set the stage for the multi-billion dollar financing of America's involvement and ultimate victory in WWII.

The best example of Roosevelt's genius was the adroit manner in which he almost single-handedly maneuvered an isolationist nation into becoming the standard bearer of America's quest for world-wide democracy. At the time of his election in 1933, most of the American public knew little and cared less about what was happening in Europe, Asia, and the Mid-East.

A daunting economic calamity staggered the planet's most productive society, creating a myopic mood that almost traumatized America's heart and soul. Everything philosophically held near and dear soured in the need to face the harsh realities of an often starving, largely unemployed populace.

By creating an unheard maze of bureaucratic agencies, Roosevelt's plethora of "New Deal" programs innovatively primed an economic pump that got our economy started again, an impetus that allowed the President to leverage virtually untapped industrial production potential into a high-stakes international crap shoot. As the world watched the rise of fascism in Germany, Italy, and Japan, Roosevelt professed that the United States could not only feed the world, but arm and finance it as well - and set out to prove this with the same innovative economic programs devised to shed America's harrowing domestic drought.

Formally entitled "An Act to Further Promote the Defense of the United States," Lend-Lease became the program under which the United States supplied the United Kingdom, Soviet Union, China, Free France, and other Allied nations the materials of war between 1941 and 1945. Signed into law on 11 March 1941, a year and a half after the outbreak of war in Europe (September 1939), but ninemonths before the US entered the war in December 1941, the Act effectively ended the pretense of neutrality.

Before it ended in September 1945 a total of $50.1 billion (equivalent to $647 billion today) worth of supplies had been shipped: $31.4 billion to Britain, $11.3 billion to the Soviet Union, $3.2 billion to France, and $1.6 billion to China. Reverse Lend-Lease was the other side of the coin wherein the US paid for services such as rent on air bases and facilities for US use, and totaled $7.8 billion; of this $6.8 billion came from the British and the Commonwealth.

The terms of the agreement provided that the matériels were to be used until time for their return or destruction. Supplies after the teimination date were sold to Britain at a discount for £1.075 billion using long-term loans from the US. Canada operated a similar program that sent $4.7 billion in supplies to the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union. Taken as a whole, this program was a critically decisive step away from noniiiterventionist policy, which had dominated US foreign relations since theendofWorldWarl.


Following the fall of France in 1940, Great Britain became the only European nation actively engaged in war against Nazi Germany. Until then Britain had been paying for its war goods in gold under "cash and carry," as required by the Neutrality Acts of the 1930s, but by 1941 the UK had liquidated so many assets it was fast running short of cash.

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