A World in Flames: A Short History of the Second World War in Europe and Asia, 1939-1945

By Martin Kitchen | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SEVEN
The United States and the War

The endless and often bitter arguments between the interventionists, who argued that since public opinion polls showed that the vast majority of Americans were in favour of full support for Britain, even at the risk of war, therefore the majority was on their side, and the isolationists, who pointed out that 80 per cent opposed a declaration of war, were largely ended with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The outrage at a day which would 'live in infamy' was deeply and widely felt, but it was soon to subside. Throughout its remaining forty months the war seemed remote, the sacrifices demanded by the state were little more than inconveniences, and a massive advertising campaign had to be launched to remind Americans that there was a war going on in distant parts. As one American remarked: Europe had been occupied, Russia and China invaded and Britain bombed, while alone among the great powers the United States was 'fighting this war on imagination alone'.

Contrary to the advice of some of his closest advisors, among them the Secretary for War, Stimson, Roosevelt asked Congress for a declaration of war only against Japan, not against Germany and Italy. Hitler was soon to oblige those who wanted war between the United States and the Axis powers by declaring war himself. He was determined to stop the flow of supplies across the Atlantic, and he wanted to oblige his Japanese allies. He was convinced that sooner or later the Americans would declare war on Germany and he wanted to fire the first shot. Roosevelt knew that this was coming by means of the decrypts of diplomatic traffic between Berlin and Tokyo, and therefore preferred to bide his time and allow Hitler and Mussolini to make the next move. He did not have to wait long. The Axis powers declared war on the United States on 11 December.

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