The Great Depression

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How did the United States respond to the military aggression of Japan, Germany, and Italy in the 1930s?

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When assessing the United States' response to the Japanese, German, and Italian aggression of the 1930s, what you need to remember is that the US government was essentially divided against itself. While President Roosevelt favored a more active and energetic response against the aggressors, he had to grapple with the fact that the country itself was still traumatized from the First World War, with a significant portion of both the US population and the US Congress set on maintaining a policy of isolationism, intent on avoiding United States involvement in a Second World War.

In 1935, the US government passed the first of the Neutrality Acts, which barred the United States from selling war materials with warring countries. Under the Third Neutrality Act in 1937, however, Roosevelt was able to gain a political victory via the Cash-and-Carry policy, which allowed the United States to sell "any items except arms" to warring nations, "so long as they immediately paid for such items and carried them on non-American ships." Note also that this allowed for the inclusion of "vital raw materials," which would not have been classified as weapons. (See link on the neutrality acts.) Later, in 1941, the United States enacted the Lend-Lease policy, before being drawn directly into the war as a combatant after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

In this sense, when assessing this history, I think it is important to keep in mind the degree to which the United States was itself largely unwilling to intervene in another global conflict, and that Cash and Carry was itself a compromise position. The US could have done more in this context, but that being said, it also could have done less.

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