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VI DEVELOPING DANGERS 1936-37
Warnings by President Roosevelt and Secretary Hull
Throughout 1935 the world peace structure had continued to deteriorate. In Europe, Germany swept away the disarmament provisions of the Versailles Treaty when in March Hitler announced the existence of a German air force and the reestablishment of conscription. In the Far East, Japan was increasing its military and naval strength and undertaking limited military actions for extending domination over China. At the end of the year Italian armies were advancing steadily into Ethiopia.
It was against this background that President Roosevelt delivered his Armistice Day address on November 11, 1935. He made clear that in foreign policy the primary purpose of the United States was to avoid being drawn into war; that we sought also in every practicable way to promote peace and to discourage war. He said that jealousies between nations continued, armaments were increasing, national ambitions were disturbing world peace and, most serious of all, confidence in the sacredness of international contracts was declining; we could not and must not hide our concern for grave world dangers, we could not "build walls around ourselves and hide our heads in the sand", we must go forward with all our strength to strive for international peace. He declared that aggression on the part of the United States was an impossibility; that defense against aggression by others was our accepted policy; and that the measure of defense would be solely the amount necessary to safeguard the United States against the armaments of others. In conclusion, he said that the more greatly others decreased their armaments, the more quickly and surely would we decrease ours. ()
In an address to Congress on January 3, 1936 President Roosevelt warned that developments in international affairs had resulted in a situation which might lead to the "tragedy of general war". He said that nations seeking expansion had reverted to belief in the law of the sword, to the fantastic conception that they alone were chosen to fulfil a mission and that all the other human beings in the world must learn from and be subject to them.
The President in this address summarized the foreign policy of the United States: We sought earnestly to limit world armaments and to attain the peaceful solution of disputes among nations; we
sought by every legitimate means to exert our moral influence against discrimination, intolerance, and autocracy, and in favor of freedom of expression, equality before the law, religious tolerance, and popular rule; in the field of commerce we undertook to encourage a more reasonable interchange of the world's goods; in the field of international finance we had, so far as we were concerned, put an end to dollar diplomacy; we followed a twofold neutrality policy toward nations engaging in wars not of immediate concern to the Americas; that is, we declined to encourage the prosecution of war by permitting belligerents to obtain arms from the United States and sought to discourage the export to belligerent nations of abnormal quantities of other war materials. Finally, the President said that if peace continued to be threatened by those who sought selfish power, the United States and the rest of the Americas could play but one role: through a well-ordered neutrality to do nothing to encourage war; through adequate defense to avoid embroilment and attack; and through example and all legitimate encouragement and assistance to persuade other nations "to return to the days of peace and goodwill". ( )
In line with the policy enunciated by the President of restricting the export to belligerents of abnormal quantities of war materials, which had been urged by the Government since the beginning of the war between Italy and Ethiopia, a “neutrality” bill containing such a provision was introduced in Congress in January 1936. Secretary of State Hull, in supporting this proposal before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, emphasized that a neutral should not "deliberately help to feed the fires and flames of war" by delivering essential materials to belligerents, thus helping "not only to carry on war but to prolong it indefinitely". This proposal was not adopted by the Congress.
By a joint resolution approved February 29, 1936 the Neutrality Act of 1935 was amended to prohibit persons in the United States from making loans or extending credits to belligerents. Upon signing this joint resolution President Roosevelt referred to the fact that the "high moral duty" which he had urged on our people of restricting their exports of essential war materials to either belligerent to approximately the normal peacetime basis had not been the subject of legislation. Nevertheless, he said, it was clear that greatly to exceed that basis "would serve to magnify the very evil of war which we seek to prevent". Therefore, the President renewed the appeal to the people of the United States "that they so conduct their trade with belligerent nations that it cannot be said that they are seizing new opportunities for profit or that by changing their peacetime trade they give aid to the continuation of war". ()
The United States Minister to Switzerland, Hugh Wilson, had reported to Secretary Hull in November 1935 that the states of Europe, while fully realizing and apprehensive of the dangers inherent in Italy's course in Ethiopia, had no real fear of Italy; that, however, they were "profoundly afraid of Germany". In a letter of January 1936 Mr. Wilson reported to the Secretary that while three months earlier the thoughts of European statesmen were concentrated on Africa, now the minds of these men were fixed on the intensity of the rearmament of Germany. He said that there was indisputable evidence of the magnitude and intensity of German military preparations; that while there might be a question as to the exact stage of the development of this preparation, there was no doubt that it was on a scale to cause alarm. The idea was becoming prevalent, he said, "that German rearmament on this scale and in this tempo can be designed only for the purposes of aggression". ( )
During a conversation of January 22, 1936 with the British Ambassador, Sir Ronald Lindsay, Secretary Hull said that "the most incomprehensible circumstance in the whole modern world is the ability of dictators, overnight almost, to stand 35 million Italians and 65 million Germans on their heads and so dominate their mental processes that they arise the next morning and insist on being sent to the first-line trenches without delay". ( )
Less than two months later, Hitler struck a blow at the peace of Europe. In flagrant violation of the Locarno Pact he proceeded in March 1936 to occupy and fortify the demilitarized Rhineland. This action was taken despite the fact that two years previously Hitler had said that after the solution of the Saar question the German Government was ready to accept not only the letter but also the spirit of the Locarno Pact.
Civil Conflict in Spain
Another threat to peace occurred in July 1936 with the outbreak of a civil conflict in Spain. The attitude of this Government toward the conflict was based squarely on the consistent policy of the United States of promoting peace and at the same time avoiding involvement in war situations. All acts and utterances of this Government in relation to the conflict were directed toward the attainment of these controlling objectives. In line with these objectives, this Government in August 1936 declared a policy of strict non-interference in the struggle and announced that the export of arms from the United States to Spain would be contrary to this policy. In line also with these objectives, the Congress of the United States four months later passed, by a unanimous vote of the Senate and by a vote of 406 to 1 in the House of Representatives, a joint
resolution prohibiting export of arms to the contending factions in Spain. (
Shortly after the beginning of the conflict in Spain it became evident that several of the principal powers of Europe were projecting themselves into the struggle through the furnishing of arms and war materials and other aid to the contending sides, thus creating real danger of a spread of the conflict into a European war. In an effort to remedy this menacing situation, a committee was set up in London, by agreement of the European governments, to carry out a concerted policy of non-intervention and to put an end to export of arms to Spain.
As the Spanish civil conflict continued, and as the European non-intervention agreement was flagrantly violated, the policy of non-interference pursued by the United States aroused criticism from partisans in this country of one or the other of the contending factions in Spain. There was a feeling in some quarters that our policy should be changed. This Government, however, was convinced that—in the light of growing complications and in view of its thoroughly unsatisfactory experience during 1935 in endeavoring to preserve peace in the Italo-Ethiopian situation-a change in its policy with regard to Spain would in no way serve the cause of peace but on the contrary would create for this country a serious risk of military involvement. Consequently the policy announced by the Executive and unanimously adopted by the Congress was pursued by the United States throughout the period of the Spanish civil conflict.
Addresses by President Roosevelt and Secretary Hull
On August 14, 1936 President Roosevelt delivered an address at Chautauqua, New York, in which he declared that the United States had sought steadfastly to assist international movements to prevent war. The President said that we shunned political commitments which might entangle the United States in foreign wars; that we avoided connection with the political activities of the League of Nations but had cooperated wholeheartedly in the social and humanitarian work at Geneva. He said that we were not isolationists "except in so far as we seek to isolate ourselves completely from war"; that we must remember that so long as war existed there would be some danger that even the nation most ardently desiring peace might be drawn into war; and that no matter how well we were supported by neutrality legislation, we must remember that no laws could be provided to cover every contingency. ( )
In an address delivered at Washington on September 7, 1936 Secretary of State Hull gave pointed warning of the threat to peace which
was mounting throughout the world. He said that in all history the weight of the responsibility of governments and peoples to preserve the peace had never been so great. He warned that if war came it would be fought not alone by uniformed armies and navies, but by the entire populations of the countries involved; that airplanes, poison gas, and other modern fighting equipment would make the world a "veritable inferno". He believed that a general war would set loose forces that would be beyond control; that these forces might bring about a virtual destruction of modern political thought and possibly a shattering of our civilization.
The one hope of the world, he said, was that governments and peoples might fully realize the solemn responsibility resting upon all of them and that realistic envisaging of the inevitable consequences would "prevent their flying at each other's throats". ( )
In an address of the following week, Secretary Hull dealt with the criticism that the United States declined to depart from its traditional policy and join with other governments in collective arrangements carrying the obligation of employing force, if necessary, in case disputes with other countries brought them into war. He declared that we could not accept that responsibility, which carried with it direct participation in the political relations of the whole world, because current experience indicated how uncertain was the possibility that we could vitally influence the policies or activities of other countries from which war might come. He said that the statesmen of the world should continue their effort to effect security by arrangements which would prove more durable than those which had been broken. ( )
Japanese Expansion and Attitude
Late in 1935 Japan attempted to promote a so-called "autonomy movement" in North China, with a view to detaching the northern provinces from the rest of China and bringing them under Japanese domination. Secretary of State Hull took notice of this situation in a public statement of December 5, 1935. He called attention to the interests of the United States involved in that area and to the treaty rights and obligations of the several powers there. He declared that political disturbances and pressures gave rise to uncertainty and tended to produce economic and social dislocations which made difficult the enjoyment of treaty rights and the fulfilment of treaty obligations.
In this statement the Secretary emphasized the importance "in this period of world-wide political unrest and economic instability that governments and peoples keep faith in principles and pledges". He declared that the United States respected the treaties to which