World War I Poster

Photo above: World War II Poster, United We Are Strong, United We Will Win, 1943, Henry Koerner, Office of War Department. Courtesy Library of Congress.

World War II - United States Involvement

For the first two years of World War II, the United States repeated its initial reaction of the first world war, attempting to stay neutral and broker peace. The nation was in the beginning of its recovery from the Great Depression, was celebrating a renewed vigor with World's Fairs in New York and San Francisco, and was not of the mindset to join the initial years of fighting. That, of course, would change. Their neutrality had always been an allied stance with the nations of Europe fighting Nazi Germany, Italy, and Japan even during the first two years of war, but without troops. When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the sleeping bear would awaken, forced into the fight with full mettle. They would fight the remaining five years of war in theaters around the world, from the European theater to the Pacific Ocean nations of the Orient. And the final act would succumb to use of weapons not thought possible, with a ferocity unsurpassed in warfare to that point with the dropping of two atom bombs on Japan.

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  • Battle Timeline

  • World War Two and the U.S. Position on the War

    Germany Invades Poland 1939

    Leading Up to War

    The outcome of World War I had not been kind to Germany or the Soviet Union, but they were more antagonists toward each other in the intervening years, instead of compatriots. By the mid-1930s, that was starting to change and different alliances were forming throughout the world. Germany, Japan, and Italy signed the Anti-Comintern Pact in 1936, essentially aligning fascist regimes against Communism. At the Paris World's Fair of 1937, the pavilions of Germany and the USSR sat directly across from each other on the Champ de Mars, poking tensioned ideologies across the fair grounds. Following the 1938 Munich agreement, essentially handing Czechoslovakia to Germany, western powers hoped a fight between Germany and Russia would occur that would end them both. But a synergy began to form. While the United Kingdom and France pledged support for the independence of Poland, Belgium, Romania, Greece, and Turkey, and engaged in talks with the Soviet Union about an alliance against Germany, the Soviet Union and Germany began to see a common objective with the need for raw materials from Russia to Germany at the forefront of any cooperation.


    Secret pacts were brewed in Eastern Europe as Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact on August 23. It stated that they were in a neutrality pact with each other and had certain spheres of influence and common goals. Their common goals, to take the territory of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, and Romania. Germany invaded Poland on September 1 with the Soviet Union following two weeks later. By October 6, Germany and the Soviets had won the opening battle of World War II, dividing and annexing Poland between themselves according to the German-Soviet Frontier Treaty. France had begun its Saarland offensive into western Germany during that fight, but halted with the quick Polish defeat. Finland was invaded by the Soviets, eventually losing eleven percent of its territory to achieve peace, and Japan continued its attempts to take the Chinese city of Changsha.

    And what was the United States response to all this? They had been officially neutral in the affairs of Europe after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt made his October 5, 1937 speech, known as the Quarantine Speech. While refraining from mentioning nations, it suggested economic pressure but not aggression against nations such as Germany, Italy, and Japan. Once the invasion of Poland began, the United States, still officially neutral, began to supply the allies with supplies. The American public was hostile toward Hitler and even more so toward Japan.


    During 1940, the United States became increasingly involved in the supply of war material to Great Britain, France, and its Pacific Allies. The early months of the year were proving with each passing week that this war was going to extend to world conflict. Germany invaded Norway on April 9; on May 10, Germany invaded the Netherlands and occupied it within one week. They took control of Belgium in eighteen days. From May to June, Germany and later Italy attacked France, which surrendered on June 22, signing the Second Armistice at Compiegne, which divided France into three sections; Germany getting the north and west, Italy occupying a small zone in the southeast, and the Vichy French with an unoccupied zone in the south. The unoccupied part did not last. In preparation for assisting the nations fighting against the Axis nations, on June 14, 1940, the Naval Expansion Act had been signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, increasing the capacity of the U.S. Navy by 11%.

    By July, the beginning of the attack by the German Air Force, the Blitz, against the British, had begun. Fights continued in Greece by Italy, China by Japan, and the Allies against the Vichy French in Indochina. By the end of the year, President Roosevelt made his intentions known in his speech of December 10, 1940, promising that the United States would assist the United Kingdom in its fight against Nazi Germany and the Pacific Allies against Japan. The USA would be the "Arsonel of Democracy," while still remaining out of the actual fight, but begin to augment its military, quadrupling its personel within one year.


    In the early months of 1941 as the war raged in both European and Pacific theaters, the United States was taking further action below the level of fighting. Through the March 11 Lend-Lease Act, they began supplying the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and the Chinese with war material. They sent troops to replace British soldiers who had invaded Iceland in 1940 to prevent Germany from taking it. They trained in Burma, the Flying Tigers, ninety aircraft to protect China if the Japanese attacked, prior to Pearl Harbor, and enacted economic sanctions against Japan, which would precipitate its attack on the Hawaiian territory.

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    Full Text, Lend Lease Act

    A BILL - Further to promote the defense of the United States, and for other purposes.

    Be it enacted by the Senate add House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That this Act may be cited as "An Act to Promote the Defense of the United States".

    SEC. 2. As used in this Act -

    (a) The term "defense article" means -

    (1) Any weapon, munition. aircraft, vessel, or boat;

    (2) Any machinery, facility, tool, material, or supply necessary for the manufacture, production, processing, repair, servicing, or operation of any article described in this subsection;

    (3) Any component material or part of or equipment for any article described in this subsection;

    (4) Any agricultural, industrial or other commodity or article for defense.

    Such term "defense article" includes any article described in this subsection: Manufactured or procured pursuant to section 3, or to which the United States or any foreign government has or hereafter acquires title, possession, or control.

    (b) The term "defense information" means any plan, specification, design, prototype, or information pertaining to any defense article.

    SEC. 3. (a) Notwithstanding the provisions of any other law, the President may, from time to time. when he deems it in the interest of national defense, authorize the Secretary Of War, the Secretary of the Navy, or the bead of any other department or agency of the Government -

    (1) To manufacture in arsenals, factories, and shipyards under their jurisdiction, or otherwise procure, to the extent to which funds are made available therefor, or contracts are authorized from time to time by the Congress, or both, any defense article for the government of any country whose defense the President deems vital to the defense of the United States.

    (2) To sell, transfer title to, exchange, lease, lend, or otherwise dispose of, to any such government any defense article, but no defense article not manufactured or procured under paragraph (1) shall in any way be disposed of under this paragraph, except after consultation with the Chief of Staff of the Army or the Chief of Naval Operations of the Navy, or both. The value of defense articles disposed of in any way under authority of this paragraph, and procured from funds heretofore appropriated, shall not exceed $1,300,000,000. The value of such defense articles shall be determined by the head of the department or agency concerned or such other department, agency or officer as shall be designated in the manner provided in the rules and regulations issued hereunder. Defense articles procured from funds hereafter appropriated to any department or agency of the Government, other than from funds authorized to he appropriated under this Act. shall not be disposed of in any way under authority of this paragraph except to the extent hereafter authorized by the Congress in the Acts appropriating such funds or otherwise.

    (3) To test, inspect, prove, repair, outfit, recondition, or otherwise to place in good working order, to the extent to which funds are made available therefor, or contracts are authorized from time to time by the Congress, or both, any defense article for any such government, or to procure any or all such services by private contract.

    (4) To communicate to any such government any defense information pertaining to any defense article furnished to such government under paragraph (2) of this subsection.

    (5) To release for export any defense article disposed of in any way under this subsection to any such government.

    (b) The terms and conditions upon which any such foreign government receives any aid authorized under subsection (a) shall be those which the President deems satisfactory, and the benefit to the United States may he payment or repayment in kind or property, or any other direct or indirect benefit which the President deems satisfactory.

    (c) After June 30, 1943, or after the passage of a concurrent resolution by the two Houses before June 30, 1943, which declares that the powers conferred by or pursuant to subsection (a) are no longer necessary to promote the defense of the United States, neither the President nor the head of any department or agency shall exercise any of the powers conferred by or pursuant to subsection (a) except that until July 1, 1946, any of such powers may be exercised to the extent necessary to carry out a contract or agreement with such a foreign government made before July 1,1943, or before the passage of such concurrent resolution, whichever is the earlier.

    (d) Nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorize or to permit the authorization of convoying vessels by naval vessels of the United States.

    (e) Nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorize or to permit the authorization of the entry of any American vessel into a combat area in violation of section 3 of the neutrality Act of 1939.

    SEC. 4 All contracts or agreements made for the disposition of any defense article or defense information pursuant to section 3 shall contain a clause by which the foreign government undertakes that it will not, without the consent of the President, transfer title to or possession of such defense article or defense information by gift, sale, or otherwise, or permit its use by anyone not an officer, employee, or agent of such foreign government.

    SEC. 5. (a) The Secretary of War, the Secretary of the Navy, or the head of any other department or agency of the Government involved shall when any such defense article or defense information is exported, immediately inform the department or agency designated by the President to administer section 6 of the Act of July 2, 1940 (54 Stat. 714). of the quantities, character, value, terms of disposition and destination of the article and information so exported.

    (b) The President from time to time, but not less frequently than once every ninety days, shall transmit to the Congress a report of operations under this Act except such information as he deems incompatible with the public interest to disclose. Reports provided for under this subsection shall be transmitted to the Secretary of the Senate or the Clerk of the House of representatives, as the case may be, if the Senate or the House of Representatives, as the case may be, is not in session.

    SEC. 6. (a) There is hereby authorized to be appropriated from time to time, out of any money in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated, such amounts as may be necessary to carry out the provisions and accomplish the purposes of this Act.

    (b) All money and all property which is converted into money received under section 3 from any government shall, with the approval of the Director of the Budget. revert to the respective appropriation or appropriations out of which funds were expended with respect to the defense article or defense information for which such consideration is received, and shall be available for expenditure for the purpose for which such expended funds were appropriated by law, during the fiscal year in which such funds are received and the ensuing fiscal year; but in no event shall any funds so received be available for expenditure after June 30, 1946.

    SEC. 7. The Secretary of War, the Secretary of the Navy, and the head of the department or agency shall in all contracts or agreements for the disposition of any defense article or defense information fully protect the rights of all citizens of the United States who have patent rights in and to any such article or information which is hereby authorized to he disposed of and the payments collected for royalties on such patents shall be paid to the owners and holders of such patents.

    SEC. 8. The Secretaries of War and of the Navy are hereby authorized to purchase or otherwise acquire arms, ammunition, and implements of war produced within the jurisdiction of any country to which section 3 is applicable, whenever the President deems such purchase or acquisition to be necessary in the interests of the defense of the United States.

    SEC. 9. The President may, from time to time, promulgate such rules and regulations as may be necessary and proper to carry out any of the provisions of this Act; and he may exercise any power or authority conferred on him by this Act through such department, agency, or officer as be shall direct.

    SEC. 10. Nothing in this Act shall be construed to change existing law relating to the use of the land and naval forces of the United States, except insofar as such use relates to the manufacture, procurement, and repair of defense articles, the communication of information and other noncombatant purposes enumerated in this Act.

    SEC 11. If any provision of this Act or the application of such provision to any circumstance shall be held invalid, the validity of the remainder of the Act and the applicability of such provision to other circumstances shall not be affected thereby.

    Approved, March 11, 1941.

    Note: Image above: Photograph of Adolf Hiter watching German troops invade Poland in September 1939. Courtesy Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-S55480 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, German Federal Archives via Wikipedia Commons. Info source: Wikipedia Commons;

    2nd World War 1941

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