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In reporting this joint declaration to the Congress the President said that it presented a goal which was "worthwhile for our type of civilization to seek". The declaration was so clear-cut, he said, that it was difficult to oppose it in any major particular without automatically admitting a willingness to accept compromise with Nazi-ism or to agree to a world peace which would give to Nazi-ism domination over large numbers of conquered nations. The President pointed out that the declaration included, of necessity, "the world need for freedom of religion and freedom of information". ( )
This Government has frequently expressed its view that after hostilities have ended, the nations contributing to the defeat of the common enemy should join together in an effort to restore peace and order on the basis of the general principles laid down in the Atlantic Charter; that meanwhile we expect a continuation of discussions between the several governments looking to the fullest possible agreement on basic policies and to later arrangements at the proper time; and that, above all, there must not be any "secret agreements”.
Aid to Russia
On August 15, 1941 a joint message from President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill was delivered to Joseph Stalin, President of the People's Commissars of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. In this message the President and the Prime Minister said that they had consulted together as to how best their two countries could help the Soviet Union; that they were cooperating to provide the Soviet Union with the very maximum of supplies most urgently needed; that many shiploads had left already for the Soviet Union and more would leave in the immediate future. In order that all concerned might be in a position to arrive at speedy decisions as to the apportionment of joint resources, they suggested that a meeting of representatives of the three Governments be held at Moscow. Realizing how vitally important to the defeat of Hitlerism was "the brave and steadfast resistance of the Soviet Union", they felt that they must act "quickly and immediately in this matter on planning the program for the future allocation of our joint resources". The conference was agreed to and was held in Moscow shortly thereafter. (
Battle of the Atlantic
By September 1941 the Axis war against shipping had resulted in several incidents that clearly demonstrated the grave menace to the vital interests of the United States. Two United States - owned merchant ships under the flag of Panama, the Sessa and the Montana, had
been torpedoed and sunk while carrying cargoes to Iceland, where the United States had established a defense outpost. A United States merchant ship en route to Suez, the Steel Seafarer, had been sunk in the Red Sea by a German aircraft. On September 4 the United States destroyer Greer had been attacked by a German submarine while carrying mail to Iceland.
On September 11, 1941, in a radio address, President Roosevelt denounced these "acts of international lawlessness" as a manifestation of the Nazi design to abolish the freedom of the seas and to acquire the domination of the seas for themselves. It would be unworthy, he said, for a great nation to exaggerate an isolated incident but it would be "inexcusable folly to minimize such incidents in the face of evidence which makes it clear that the incident is not isolated, but part of a general plan"; for with the control of the seas by the Nazis the way could become clear for their next step-domination of the United States and the Western Hemisphere by force. Under Nazi control of the seas no merchant ship of the United States or of any other American republic would be free to carry on any peaceful commerce, "except by the condescending grace of this foreign and tyrannical power". To be ultimately successful in world mastery, Hitler knew that he must get control of the seas, that he must first destroy the bridge of ships which we were building across the Atlantic, over which we would continue to roll the implements of war "to help destroy him and all his works in the end". He must wipe out our patrol on sea and in the air, and he must silence the British Navy. The President said that the United States Navy was "an invincible protection" only if the British Navy survived; that if the world outside the Americas fell under Axis domination, the shipbuilding facilities which the Axis powers would then possess in all of Europe, in the British Isles, and in the Far East would be two or three times greater than all the shipbuilding facilities and possibilities of all the Americas. Even if the United States threw all its resources into such a situation, seeking to double and even redouble the size of our Navy, the Axis powers, in control of the rest of the world, "would have the manpower and the physical resources to outbuild us several times over".
Generation after generation, the President said, America had fought for the freedom of the seas, which meant that "no nation has the right to make the broad oceans of the world, at great distances from the actual theater of land war, unsafe for the commerce of others". The President stated that no act of violence or intimidation would keep us from maintaining intact two bulwarks of defense: our line of supply to Hitler's enemies and the freedom of our shipping on the high seas. We would "keep open the line of legitimate commerce in these defen
sive waters". We had sought no shooting war with Hitler and did not seek it "now", but we did not want peace so much that we were willing to pay for it by permitting him to attack our naval or merchant vessels when they were on legitimate business.
President Roosevelt declared that the very presence of Axis submarines or raiders in any waters which America deemed vital to its defense constituted an attack. In these waters, the President said, "American naval vessels and American planes will no longer wait until Axis submarines lurking under the water, or Axis raiders on the surface of the sea, strike their deadly blow-first". Our naval and air patrol operating over a vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean would protect all merchant ships engaged in commerce in our defensive waters. It was no act of war on our part when we decided to protect the seas which were vital to American defense; the aggression was not ours. The President warned that from then on, if German or Italian vessels of war entered the waters the protection of which was necessary for American defense, they would do so "at their own peril". The sole responsibility rested upon Germany; there would be "no shooting" unless Germany continued to seek it.
Finally, the President said that he had no illusions about the gravity of this step; that he had not taken it hurriedly or lightly; that it was the result of many months of constant thought and anxiety and prayer; that in the protection of the nation it could not be avoided. ( )
Revision of the Neutrality Act
Ships of the United States and of other American republics continued to be sunk in the Atlantic Ocean by Nazi submarines. In view of this situation and in view of the fact that the Neutrality Act of 1939 prohibited the arming of United States merchant ships engaged in foreign commerce and prevented United States merchant ships from carrying cargoes to belligerent ports, it became increasingly difficult to obtain shipping for the carriage of Lend-Lease supplies to Great Britain and to other nations whose defense was considered vital to the defense of the United States.
On October 9, 1941 the President asked Congress to modify the Neutrality Act. In his message the President said that the act had been passed at a time when few people visualized the true magnitude of the Nazi attempt to dominate the world; that it required a complete reconsideration in the light of known facts. He recommended the repeal of section 6, which prohibited the arming of United States flagships engaged in foreign commerce. He said that the practice of arming merchant ships for defense had never been prohibited by international law; that there was now an imperative need to equip United
States merchant vessels with arms. He declared that we were faced with modern pirates of the sea who were destroying defenseless ships without warning and without provision for the safety of the passengers and crews; that our merchant vessels were sailing the seas on missions connected with the defense of the United States; that it was not just for the crews of these vessels to be denied the means of defending their lives and their ships. Although the arming of merchant vessels did not guarantee their safety, the President said, it certainly added to their safety. He emphasized that the arming of our ships was a matter of "immediate necessity, and extreme urgency".
The President then said that there were other phases of the Neutrality Act to which he hoped Congress would give earnest and early attention. While most of the vital Lend-Lease goods were being delivered, many of them were being sunk; as we approached full production requiring the use of many ships being built, it would be increasingly necessary to deliver our goods under our own flag. We could not and should not depend on the strained resources of our friends to deliver our goods "nor should we be forced to masquerade American-owned ships behind the flags of our sister republics". By keeping our ships out of the ports of our own friends we were inviting control of the seas by the aggressors. The President asked that Congress carry out the true intent of the Lend-Lease Act by making it possible for the United States to help deliver the articles to those who were in a position effectively to use them. It was our duty as never before, he said, to extend more and more assistance and ever more swiftly to Great Britain, to Russia, and to all peoples fighting slavery; we would not let Hitler prescribe the waters of the world on which our ships might travel. We could not permit the affirmative defense of our rights to be annulled by sections of the Neutrality Act "which have no realism in the light of unscrupulous ambition of madmen". ( )
Shortly after the President's delivery of this message, Secretary Hull made a statement before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in support of the proposal for modifying the Neutrality Act of 1939. At the outset of this statement of October 21 he said: The "paramount principle of national policy is the preservation of the safety and security of the nation"; the "highest right flowing from that principle is the right of self-defense"; this right "must now be invoked"; the key to that defense under existing conditions was to prevent Hitler from gaining control of the seas.
The Secretary reaffirmed that Hitler and his satellites were seeking to control the seas, particularly to sever the sea lanes which linked the United States "to the remaining free peoples". He believed, he said, that an indispensable part of our policy must be resolute self
defense on the high seas and that this called especially for protection of shipping on open sea lanes. When American ships were being "wantonly and unlawfully attacked with complete disregard of life and property" it was absurd to forego any legitimate measures that might be helpful toward self-defense. One of the greatest mistakes we could possibly make would be to base our policy upon an assumption that we were secure when, if the assumption should prove erroneous, the consequence thereof would "lay us completely open to hostile invasion". ( )
The Congress passed, and the President approved on November 17, 1941, a joint resolution repealing sections 2, 3, and 6 of the Neutrality Act of 1939, thereby permitting United States vessels to be armed and to carry cargoes to belligerent ports anywhere.
"We Americans Have Cleared Our Decks and Taken Our Battle Stations"
Meanwhile, on October 17, 1941 the United States destroyer Kearny had been attacked and hit by a torpedo from a Nazi submarine and eleven men of the Navy were killed. President Roosevelt said in an address on October 27 that we had wished to avoid shooting but the shooting had begun and "history has recorded who fired the first shot". The purpose of Hitler's attack was, he said, to frighten the American people off the high seas; if our national policy were to be dominated by the fear of shooting, then all of our ships and those of the other American republics would have to be tied up in home harbors. Naturally we rejected that "absurd and insulting suggestion". Each day we were producing and providing more and more arms for the men who were fighting on actual battlefronts; it was this nation's will that these vital arms and supplies of all kinds should neither be locked up in American harbors nor sent to the bottom of the sea; it was the nation's will that "America shall deliver the goods". He emphasized that the orders to the United States Navy "to shoot on sight" were still in effect.
The forward march of Hitler and of Hitlerism could be stopped, the President said, and would be stopped; we were pledged to pull our own oar in the destruction of Hitlerism; when we had helped to end the curse of Hitlerism we would help to establish "a new peace which will give to decent people everywhere a better chance to live and prosper in security and in freedom and in faith".
The President concluded his address with a statement that in the face of this newest and greatest challenge "we Americans have cleared our decks and taken our battle stations"; we stood ready "in the defense of our nation and the faith of our fathers to do what God has given us the power to see as our full duty". ( )