Excerpt from "There Can Be No Appeasement with Ruthlessness … We Must Be the Great Arsenal of Democracy," a radio address delivered on December 29, 1940
Reprinted from The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1940 Volume.
Published in 1941.
"We must be the great arsenal of democracy …. We must apply ourselves to our task with the same resolution, the same sense of urgency, the same spirit of patriotism and sacrifice as we would show were we at war."
President Roosevelt's calls for mobilization in 1940 were well-founded. By late spring of 1940 German dictator Adolf Hitler had successfully directed his Nazi army in conquests over Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Belgium. In May the relentless Nazis entered northern France, and by June 14 they were in the streets of Paris. The French government was forced to sign an armistice (truce) on June 22. With the fall of France, Hitler turned his attention across the English Channel to Great Britain. The German air force, the Luftwaffe, attempted to destroy Britain's Royal Air Force and commenced bombing London in September. Italy had also declared war on Britain and France. Meanwhile in Asia, Japan had invaded various provinces in China, and Japanese military leaders were eyeing the Southeast Asian countries of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.
On September 27, 1940, representatives from Germany, Italy, and Japan (collectively known as the Axis powers) met in Berlin, the capital of Germany. With the ultimate goal of world domination, the three countries boldly signed an agreement that threatened united aggression against the United States if it tried to halt their expansion objectives.
By late fall of 1940 it was clear to Roosevelt that the only way to stop the Axis powers and to keep them off American soil was to supply Britain with war materials. The United States had already been slowly moving toward mobilization in the previous twelve months. When France fell to the Nazis, President Roosevelt had asked Congress to appropriate money to manufacture more military aircraft, and Congress authorized $1 billion for fifty thousand new warplanes. However, these measures would not be enough to stop the Axis powers. Therefore, in late December 1940, Roosevelt asked the nation to become "the arsenal of democracy," that is, to produce and stockpile weapons for the nations that were defending democracy against the dictatorial Axis regimes. The tone of Roosevelt's speech was urgent and determined. Roosevelt spoke to convince Americans that they were indeed vulnerable to attack if the Axis powers were not defeated. America's best defense, Roosevelt said, was to rearm its own military and to supply Britain with everything needed to defeat the German assault.
Things to remember while reading the excerpt from "Arsenal of Democracy" …
- The United States remained detached from international events throughout the 1930s. As the war expanded in Europe and Asia, however, Americans experienced great uncertainty about the nation's future foreign policy.
- Although they hoped British forces would be victorious over Germany and Italy, many Americans opposed giving aid to Britain and other nations involved in the European war. Separated from Europe by the vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean and from Japan by the Pacific Ocean, Americans generally felt secure against foreign attack, and they did not believe it would serve U.S. interests to get involved in the war. Americans who did not want the United States to become involved in the war in Europe were known as isolationists (people who...
(The entire section is 3,393 words.)