"Shoot on Sight"
BEFORE THE PROJECT OF A ROOSEVELT-KONOYE MEETING failed, a radical change occurred in the American relation to the European war. The United States entered a period of limited and undeclared war with the President's order to the Navy on September 11 to "shoot on sight" in American defense waters.
This order complemented in the military sphere the advance in political action against aggression represented by the Atlantic Charter. It was all the more remarkable because support of the President in Congress had receded dangerously in the debate on extension of Selective Service. Roosevelt had agreed with considerable reluctance, at the insistence of Stimson and Marshall, to make the fight for extension. Isolationists were able to arouse powerful sentiment against it by appealing for the return of the drafted boys to the arms of their mothers. Passage of the bill by the margin of one vote in the House of Representatives was a warning signal that echoed and re-echoed during the next months. It meant that every legitimate means of strengthening policy by exercising Executive authority was preferable to risking tests in Congress which might destroy administration policy altogether. It confirmed Roosevelt's wisdom in refusing to commit himself to ask Congress for a declaration of war except in case of attack against territory of the United States. This was a conclusion interventionists were unwilling to accept, but their purpose was to influence public opinion and Congress, and it was the President's responsibility to avoid the debacle that would follow a defeat in Congress.
Senator Wheeler interpreted the vote in the House as follows: