While the above delineates why the United States began to support britain and wage economic war on the Germans, it does not explain fully why the United States actually entered World War II as a combative power. However, an analysis of the goals and strategies of major powers at this point can help supplement the above information to provide an explanation as to why the United States fought in Europe. First, Germany’s geopolitical goals (as seen completely separate from their “moral” goals of creating a master race) involved conquest of other countries to create one massive power structure centered in Berlin.
Side effects of this conquest and the massive power structure itself included bloc economics and economic suffocation of the United States. For Britain, the war was one of preservation. Not only did the British wish to retain their freedom from a Nazi regime, but they also had interest in retaining the status of the British empire, which at this point was still active in the Caribbean, Hong Kong, and India, among other places. France also largely wished to retain its former status and peace, but that opportunity quickly vanished during the Blitzkrieg.
To achieve these respective strategies, Britain and France practiced a strategy of appeasement, with Britain only encouraging this strategy before the invasion of POland in 1939 and France implementing it even after the Germans captured Vichy. For many Frenchmen, the looming threat of Soviet Russia played a bigger role than Hitler’s Germany. Therefore, the French did not put up as much resistance as possible, and generally allowed Hitler to take over France in such a short time. On the other hand, the US strategy aligned with neither of these.
While Britain wanted to maintain the empire and its closed economy, the United States wanted an open economic system. While France wished to appease Hitler, the United States did not believe appeasement would stop Hitler from his conquest. These dissidences brought the US into conflict with its two main allies at multiple points. When Germany invaded France for instance, the United States accused the French of going beyond the required dues to Germany in a futile effort to appease Hitler.
Furthermore, when Churchill and Roosevelt began to negotiate on the terms of an official alliance (dubbed the Atlantic Charter), the two leaders disagreed on the status of world trade after the war, but proceeded with the charter, leaving this issue for later. In brief, the United States had a vested interest the world’s economy after the war, and American diplomats and leaders would fight in negotiations for an international system. The United States did not practice appeasement because appeasement would not further this goal.
The United States did not wish to preserve the British empire because it would not further this goal. When Japan attacked at Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Roosevelt saw it as an opportunity to further this goal. In June of 1940, Churchill had predicted that the United States only needed an opportunity, an inciting incident, to enter the war. By the end of 1941, Roosevelt felt that if the United States did not enter the war as a combatant, the goal of an open, international economic system would not be achieved, and German economic encroachment following the inevitable fall of Britain would strangle the American way of life.
While American economic interests primarily caused them to enter the war, other reasons prompted a declaration of war. For instance, moral antagonism between German and American ideals as well as the removal of Russia as an obstacle both contributed to Roosevelt’s decision. Moral antagonisms spurred both from the infringement of political freedoms in Germany and Nazy anti-Semetism. The United States knew as early as 1933 that the Third Reich had imprisoned political enemies and had robbed other groups, including but not limited to the Jews, of their rights.
Hitler’s first reforms as chancellor took away the freedom of the press, freedom of speech, the right to assemble, and the right to privacy, which put it directly at odds to traditional American values. Furthermore, even in 1933, well before the world knew the extent of Nazi atrocities, hundreds of thousands of political prisoners were being imprisoned or killed. While the United States does not typically declare war based on human rights violations, these actions on behalf of Germany certainly frightened the American public when the economic threat loomed large because any economic threat was a threat to the American way of life.
In an article in the Atlantic Monthly from July 1941, Douglas Miller illustrates this concept poignantly. He warned that if Germany succeeded, the daily goods that facilitated the American way of life would become scarce. Furthermore, a form of socialism to which Americans have always been very averse could take hold. In short, the ideologies of Nazi Germany lied in stark contrast to those in post-Depression America, and this contrast just increased as American society evolved into the 1950s, which shows that while Germany exuded fascism, Americans trended toward consumerism.
However, to speak of socialism in the 20th century is primarily to speak of the Soviet Union, which posed a challenge to US strategists in the early days of the war. A large portion of the American public feared that if the United States were to join the war in Europe, no power could resist the burgeoning Soviets. However, in the fall of 1941, Hitler disregarded the previously signed Non-Aggression Pact between Germany and Russia by invading the western Russia. The Soviet Union pleaded with the United States for assistance through the Lend-Lease Act.
While initially the United States could only provide supplemental, non-Lend-Lease assistance, Roosevelt eventually authorized Lend-Lease aid to Russia a month before entering the war. With that obstacle removed and Russia greatly weakened by the German invasion, the American public and Roosevelt did not feel as though Russia would be a threat to the continuation of war after the fall of Berlin. Finally, Jewish members of Roosevelt’s cabinet fought a moral war with the Germans because of the atrocities committed against their people in Austria, Poland, the Soviet Union, and other countries.
These moral and political reasons, combined with the more important economic reasons, facilitated the United States declaration of war on December 11, 1941. In brief, many pressures combined to push the United States to war with Germany, but the most prominent among these was the economic threat of a German bloc system to the world economy, the prosperity of the United States, and the American way of life. While it is true that moral pressures and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor contributed, in reality the United States had been looking for ways to deal with Hitler.
If the US had not stepped in and Britain had fell, Roosevelt’s vision of an open, international economy would not have come to fruition. Not only that, but also the US would fight a losing economic war to Nazi Europe. Instead, Roosevelt chose to support Britain financially and through trade, eventually allowing the United States to enter the war itself to secure victory over the Germans. Simply put, by the end of 1941, the United States did not feel secure with Britain as their defender, so they went to war.