End to Isolationism and Entry into War
After winning reelection, FDR felt confident in stepping
up American aid to the Allies. He pushed for passage of the Lend-Lease
Act in March 1941, which allowed the president to lend or
lease supplies to any nation deemed “vital to the defense of the
United States,” such as Britain. FDR extended lend-lease aid to
the Soviet Union after Germany invaded in November 1941. The U.S.
also helped the Allies by tracking German submarines and warning
the British of their location, and by convoying British ships carrying
lend-lease supplies—that is, surrounding British ships with U.S.
Navy vessels ordered to attack any menacing vessel.
In August 1941, FDR met with British Prime Minister Winston
Churchill on a British ship off Newfoundland. The two discussed
military strategy and issued the Atlantic Charter,
which outlined their ideal postwar world: among other provisions,
it called for disarmament and freedom of the seas. In response to
a German attack against a U.S. destroyer, Roosevelt issued the shoot-on-sight
order in September 1941, which authorized American naval
patrols to fire on all Axis ships found between the U.S. and Iceland.
After American destroyers were twice attacked in October, Congress
authorized the arming of merchant ships.
The final provocation for American entry into the war
came from Japan, which had joined the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo Axis in
September 1940 by signing the Tripartite Pact. Japan’s
desires to build an East Asian empire had alarmed the U.S. since
Japan’s invasion of China in 1931. In September 1940, Japanese forces
continued their invasion into French Indochina. The U.S. responded
to this invasion as it had to other invasions in the past: it added
items to a lengthy list of embargoed Japanese goods, and eventually
froze all trade with Japan. In 1941, U.S. intelligence became aware
of plans for a Japanese attack and sent out warnings to commanders
of U.S. bases in the Pacific, but most American officials did not
believe that the threat was immediate. These officials were proved
wrong on December 7, 1941, when, in an attempt to destroy American
sea power in the Pacific, Japanese planes bombed the U.S. base at Pearl
Harbor. The Japanese destroyed nearly 200 aircraft, eight
battleships, three cruisers, and three destroyers. Almost 2,400
Americans died. On December 8, the Senate voted unanimously in favor
of FDR’s request for a declaration of war on Japan. The House passed
the declaration over only one dissenting vote. On December 11, Germany
and Italy joined Japan in war against the U.S.
The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on
December 7, 1941, and the U.S. declared war against Japan on December
8. On December 11, Germany and Italy declared war on the U.S., completing
the entry of the U.S. into World War II.
On January 1, 1942, representatives of 26 nations signed
the Declaration of the United Nations, pledging support
for the Atlantic Charter and vowing not to make separate peace agreements
with the Axis powers.
The War at Home
Although the U.S. had begun preparing for war during the
summer of 1940, war production comprised only 15 percent of the
nation’s industrial output in 1941, and U.S. armed forces were seriously
understaffed and undersupplied. During the next four years, war production
on the home front churned into high gear.
Expanding the Military
In 1942, FDR created the Joint Chiefs of Staff to
oversee America’s rapidly expanding military. By the end of the
war, more than 15 million men had served in the U.S. armed forces. About
350,000 women served as well, most in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC)
and Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service in the navy (WAVES).
The air force, a minor corps at the outset of the war, grew substantially
and gained a measure of autonomy during the war. The Joint Chiefs
also established the Office of Strategic Services (OSS)
to assess the enemy’s assets and liabilities, conduct espionage,
and gather information to be used in strategic planning.
The U.S. mobilized industry to assist in the war effort.
The War Production Board, created in 1942, oversaw
the production of thousands of planes, tanks, and artillery pieces
required for the war. The War Production Board allocated scarce
resources and offered incentives for civilian firms to produce military
goods. The last civilian car was produced in the U.S. in 1942, after
which plants were redesigned to produce tanks, planes, weapons,
and munitions. By the end of the war, the U.S. had built about 300,000
aircraft, 85,000 tanks, 375,000 artillery pieces, 2.5 million machine
guns, and 90,000 sea ships—more war material than the four Axis
powers, combined, had produced. This feat was accomplished through
substantial investment of capital and the development of new, highly
efficient manufacturing techniques.
During World War II, American industry shifted
from producing civilian goods to military goods under the supervision
of the War Production Board. Due to this shift in production, heavy
investment, and new, efficient techniques, the U.S. produced more
war material than all of the Axis powers combined.
The federal budget multiplied tenfold between
1940 and 1945. U.S. expenditures during World War II totaled nearly
twice the amount spent by the U.S. government in its previous 150
years of existence. Spending on war production precipitated a shift
in American income distribution, with the share of national income
allocated to the richest Americans decreasing and that allocated
to the middle class doubling. The Revenue Act of 1942,
passed to help pay for the war, increased taxes for the wealthiest
War spending, accompanied by the draft, ended the high
rate of unemployment which had not rebounded from from the Great
Depression. Organized labor grew strong and wealthy during World
War II, with union membership growing by about 60 percent. Although
most unions abided by a no-strike policy, unions secured new benefits
(such as fewer hours and better health plans) for their members,
partially as a concession from the National War Labor Board,
which limited wage increases to avoid inflation. Union power suffered
a setback when a series of coal miners’ strikes provoked Congress
to pass the Smith-Connolly War Labor Disputes Act in
June 1943, which limited the right to strike in key industries and
allowed the president to take control of any firm beset by strikes.
The Office of Price Administration waged a battle against
inflation and the over-use of resources. The OPA oversaw a rationing
program designed to curb new purchases and conserve materials, in
particular gas, sugar, coffee, butter, and meat. The American people largely
complied with these efforts by forsaking many goods—for example,
implementing “meatless Tuesdays”—and by planting “victory gardens”
and conducting collection drives to gather materials for recycling.
Another tactic aimed at financing the war was the sale of war bonds.
The Office of Price Administration oversaw a
rationing program with which most Americans cooperated, giving up
many goods and otherwise doing their part to support the war effort.
Controlling Information and Advertising the War
FDR relied on the Office of Censorship and
the Office of War Information to regulate the communications
of American citizens. The former, created shortly after the U.S.
entry into the war, examined all letters sent overseas and worked
with media firms to control information broadcast to the people.
The latter, formed in June 1942, employed artists, writers, and advertisers
to shape public opinion by explaining the reasons for U.S. entry
in the war and by portraying the enemy as barbaric and cruel.
War advertising encouraged women to actively participate
in the war effort. During World War II, even more so than in World
War I, women entered the workforce to fill the vacancies left by
men at war and aid in the production of war materials. The image
of Rosie the Riveter, a muscle-bound woman with a rivet
gun, was pervasive and effective. Increasing numbers of women entered
the workforce to perform all sorts of jobs. The roles women played
in the armed forces helped create new respect for the working woman. Women,
however, were paid far less than working men, and traditional notions
of gender roles prevailed throughout the war.
During World War II, women were encouraged to
enter the workforce, and women aiding in the war effort were glorified.
Although traditional notions about gender roles remained intact,
female participation in the war was an important step toward greater
respect for women in the U.S.
During World War II, the U.S. government rounded up more
than 110,000 Japanese immigrants and U.S.-born Japanese-Americans
and sent them to relocation centers guarded by military police.
Military leaders, West Coast farmers, and others rationalized this
policy as necessary to prevent acts of sabotage and espionage in
support of Japan. In 1942, FDR authorized this relocation in Executive
Order 9066, and in 1944 the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality
of the order in Korematsu v. U.S. In
1988, Congress voted to pay reparations of $20,000 to every internee
Reelection and Succession
FDR ran for reelection once again in 1944, in
the midst of World War II, with moderate Democrat Harry S.
Truman as his running mate. FDR won an unprecedented fourth
term, though by his narrowest margin ever. Shortly after Roosevelt’s
fourth term began, he died of a cerebral hemorrhage in April 1945,
leaving Truman to oversee the war effort.