Franklin Roosevelt and the Origins of the Canadian-American Security Alliance, 1933-1945: Necessary, but Not Necessary Enough

By Galen Roger Perras | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
The United States Will Not Stand Idly By: Defending Canada, 1937-1939

On 4 January 1937, Adolf A. Berle and Sumner Welles, having recently attended the Pan-American conference in Argentina, consumed numerous hours on their slow passenger liner voyage home discussing what the United States could or should do if Europe slid into another continental conflagration. Berle, a Columbia University law professor, feared that allowing belligerents to purchase American arms would lead to "the kind of situation which led to our participation in the World War of 1914," but felt that prohibiting all but normal trade would not work either as banned nations likely would obtain American military goods via a third party. As to refusing to trade only with one party in the conflict--"politically impracticable" because that meant the United States would be taking sides--Berle thought it "slightly more dangerous than flat and equal prohibition." 1 Confronted with such unhappy alternatives, Berle and Welles concluded that the best hope lay in preventing war rather than trying to keep the United States unentangled if Europe tore itself apart again. Informal discussions might determine the minimum concessions required "to detach Germany from the project of a Russian war and her Japanese alliance," and liberate that nation from its economic difficulties. And if that went well, the United States might then convene an international congress to address Europe's broader economic and political problems. But after reflecting that public opinion might not support American intervention and using the 1921-22 Washington naval talks as their guide, they sought to convince European leaders to discuss disarmament, a subject most Americans likely would gladly champion. Roosevelt, they agreed, "would be receptive to the idea." 2

Receptive Roosevelt was, but as Britain's ambassador had already told Hull, faced with German, Japanese, and Italian bellicosity, Britain had discerned it had little

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