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Franklin D. Roosevelt

WWII and Roosevelt's Last Days

World War II Begins Across the Seas

Study Questions and Essay Topics

Roosevelt, after his election to a third term, created the lend-lease plan at the behest of Prime Minister Churchill. Newly reassured in the support of the American people, FDR returned to Washington after his vacation armed with a creative plan for continuing aid to Britain without violating the Neutrality Acts. He proposed that the United States lend or lease, rather than sell, needed munitions to Britain, who could no longer afford to pay for aid. The bill, which was the subject of fierce debate before its approval in Congress, allowed for the United States to aid the Allies with over $50 billion in goods and services by the end of the war. In August, Prime Minister Churchill and Roosevelt met formally for the first time in Newfoundland. Churchill graciously accepted his role as supplicant, calling FDR "Mr. President" while Roosevelt called him Winston.

Many critics suspect that Roosevelt steered the country to war while professing all the while to avoid it. No matter what his private sentiments were on the necessity of war, FDR chose to wait for provocation from the aggressors to push the country out of its isolationist mood rather than act without their support. He attempted to manipulate an incident where torpedoes from German U-boats hit American ships headed towards Britain into a battle-call, but Hitler quickly apologized, and the incident faded into memory. Roosevelt waited in vain for some overt aggression in the Atlantic, but the Germans, wary from their experience with America in World War I, continued without any dramatic inducement to war. In the meantime, Roosevelt had been increasing pressure on Japan by decreasing exports of metal and oil. When FDR finally cut off high- octane aviation fuel to Japan entirely, the Japanese were pushed into a corner and decided to launch an all-out offensive rather than give up their possessions in China. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, finally provided Roosevelt with the provocation to declare war. The fact that the war had come from the west, not the east, was unexpected, however. Indeed, 265 American aircraft were lost, 2,403 men were killed, and 1,178 were wounded at Pearl Harbor. The Japanese lost only twenty-nine aircraft and fifty-five men. On December 8, FDR asked Congress to declare war against Japan. Three days later, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States.

Roosevelt chose a talented team of military advisors who would remain at their posts for the entirety of the war. General Marshall was the Chief Advisor for the Army and Admiral King was the Chief Advisor for the Navy. Both Marshall and King were straightforward with the President and had his trust, so much so that the soft-spoken Marshall was not allowed to command the Allied advance in 1944 because Roosevelt wanted him at his side. These military leaders had to cope with many logistical difficulties that during the war, as not all of the Allies were at war with the same countries, nor did they consider the same countries their friends. China was not at war with Germany, but Britain and the Soviet Union did not have any faith in China, and so on. The domestic front was also a major cause of concern in mounting an Allied offensive. Although FDR had encouraged mobilization many years before Pearl Harbor, many industrialists were reluctant to comply with the plans of a leader who was seen as anti-business. But Roosevelt's experience at the war desk during World War I had taught him that a modern war was little more than a fight between the resources of each country. With Pearl Harbor, the resources of the United States were opened.

Roosevelt largely fumbled the administrative machinery that was to run the domestic war effort until October 1942, when he chose Supreme Court Justice James F. Byrnes to be the head of the Office of Economic Stabilization, and later the head of the Office of War Mobilization. Roosevelt set ambitious production goals and Byrnes and his subordinates carried them out. The largest question on the domestic front was who was to pay for the war. New revenues for the country came from an increase of the top bracket of income tax to eighty-one percent and, more significant, simply increasing the number of people who paid tax. Congress did not increase taxes as much as FDR asked, passing a new tax bill only in 1944 and not taxing as much as he had proposed. He vetoed the bill but the Senate overrode the veto–signs that his hold over Congress had completely crumbled.

Indeed, Roosevelt's wartime humanitarian efforts were weak at best because his brand of liberalism had never extended to civil rights. He signed the bill to send Japanese Americans to internment camps without any protest or consideration for their civil liberties. He refused to take action against segregation of African Americans in the Armed Forces. He also refused to take real action against the harming of Jewish lives, and refused to open American immigration doors to larger numbers of Jewish immigrants until his advisor Morgenthau presented him with a stern report informing of the results of his inaction. As soon as the war began, Roosevelt also seemed to lose interest in further social reform. Although the Depression and its unemployment were solved by the increased production of the war, many of the New Deal programs that had faced the most conservative opposition were disbanded at the very beginning of the war.

Roosevelt's role as Commander-in-Chief seemed to be preferable to him to his role as President–he preferred to be introduced as the former at official dinners and functions. He left most tactical matters to his able military advisors, but participated in larger questions of strategy, often conferring with Stalin and Churchill personally. The close relationship between Churchill and Roosevelt was crucial to the success of the Allies. Because the Soviet Union was bearing the brunt of Germany's forces in Europe, Stalin repeatedly asked the Allies to open another European front rather than limiting their fighting to Africa. Roosevelt mollified Stalin by promising that the Allies would accept nothing less than an unconditional surrender from Germany; that is, they would not leave the war with the Soviet Union still fighting the Germans.

In November of 1943, Churchill and Roosevelt traveled to Tehran to meet with Stalin for the first time. Roosevelt desperately tried to establish a personal relationship with the Russian leader, as he realized that the peace of the world after the war depended upon the cooperation of the great world powers. Many critics of Roosevelt feel that he was far too naïve about Russian intentions and set the building blocks for the development of the Cold War by appeasing Stalin's requests before the end of World War II. Yet, Roosevelt's attempts to build a friendship with Stalin were characterized not by naïveté but by a clash of goals. Roosevelt's farsightedness in foreign policy is demonstrated in his convention of the International Monetary Conference at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, in July of 1944, a meeting that created the International Monetary Fund to stabilize world currencies and aid in reconstruction and development of nations after the war's end. The IMF has continued to play an important role in distribution of aid to developing nations even today. FDR also persuaded twenty-six countries to sign the UN Declaration, a statement of principles that extended the Atlantic Charter that he and Churchill had signed in Newfoundland replaced Wilson's crumbled League of Nations.

In 1944, Roosevelt agreed without resistance to be the Democratic candidate for president, although people close to him say that he was more interested in retiring to Hyde Park and playing the role of elder statesman. His ailing health and constant complaints of fatigue may have been the reason for his lack of protest at Harry Truman of Missouri replacing Wallace as his running mate. FDR defeated Thomas Dewey of New York with fifty-three percent of the vote–an easy win because the Allies, under his leadership, were surely winning the war. On June 6, 1944, the Allied forces finally landed on the Normandy coast of France. In August, they liberated Paris and in another month had nearly driven the Germans out of all of France.

Roosevelt again traveled to meet with Churchill and Stalin, this time in Yalta. The leaders came to an agreement on the post-war occupation of Germany, the Soviet Union's participation in the Pacific War if necessary, and the creation of what later became the United Nations. However, the same issues the leaders had evaded at the earlier conference–such as the fate of Poland and other Eastern European countries–were discussed again without agreement, and weak compromises were instated in their stead. To historians today gifted with hindsight, the outlines of the Cold War are clearly visible in the agreements that came out of Yalta. Indeed, many cite Yalta as emblematic of Roosevelt's political naïveté in trusting Stalin. Yet, at the time, when FDR returned from Yalta, the country greeted him with great pomp, and all, including Roosevelt himself, felt that the talks had been a great success. He had realized early on that the Soviet Union and the United States were to be the great powers of the world, and had done his best to enmesh them in a net of mutual obligations and goodwill to guarantee peace in the coming years.

While in public life Roosevelt was basking in the upcoming victory of WWII, his personal life was lonelier than it had ever been. His mother, with whom he had always maintained a close relationship, had died in 1941. His four sons were all serving overseas. Missy LeHand, his faithful secretary, had suffered a serious stroke in 1941 and died in 1944, and Eleanor was traveling the country with her own social agenda. When Roosevelt called for cocktail hour in the White House, there sometimes would be no one there, not even Harry Hopkins, who had married and moved out of the White House. For companionship, FDR turned to women– to his daughter Anna, to two cousins, and a series of charming women who would defer to him in the way that his wife never did. He also re- ignited his relationship with Lucy Mercer, now Lucy Rutherford, a widower. Whether or not their relationship in his last days was more than a strong friendship is unclear, although Roosevelt kept the meetings secret from Eleanor. He went for a vacation to Warm Springs in March of 1945, just a few short months before the end of the war, and asked Lucy to come. On April 12, 1945, Franklin Delano Roosevelt suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage and passed away in the afternoon.

"We have learned that we cannot live alone at peace; that our own well-being is dependent on the well-being of other nations–far away. We have learned the simple truth as Emerson said, that "the only way to have a friend is to be one."

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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