Citation: C N Trueman "September 15th " historylearningsite. The History Learning Site, 20 Apr
The United States -- by law -- was neutral. And few Americans had any desire to fight in another world war. They hoped for victory for Britain, France, and the other Allied powers. President Franklin Roosevelt made this clear in a radio talk to Americans soon after the war began.
He praised the British and other allies. Finally, the president called on Congress to change the neutrality laws that prevented him from sending arms to the Allies to help them fight the Nazis.
Congress agreed to change the laws so foreign nations could buy American arms. German and Soviet troops captured Poland quickly in September nineteen thirty-nine.
In late November, they attacked Finland. Fighting between Finland and the Soviet Union continued through the winter, until Finland accepted Russia's demands.
Germany attacked Denmark and Norway, defeating them easily. In May, Nazi forces struck like lightning through Belgium and Holland. Within one day, they were in France. British and French forces were unable to stop the Germans from moving deep into northern France.
The British forces finally were forced to flee from the European continent in small boats. They sailed from the French town of Dunkerque back to Britain. German soldiers marched through France. And Italian forces joined them by invading France from the south.
Soon, Paris fell. A German supporter, Marshal Petain, took control of the French government. And France -- beaten and crushed -- was forced to sign a peace treaty with Hitler.
Only the English Channel separated the British people from a German army that seemed unbeatable. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was forced to resign. The British people turned to a new leader, Winston Churchill.
Churchill would prove to be strong and brave in the long months ahead. The British would need strong leadership.
Hitler wasted no time in launching a fierce air attack on Britain. Throughout the summer, German and British planes fought above the English Channel. War and neutrality were no longer just ideas to be discussed in a classroom or political debate. Now they were real concerns, real events.
Fascist troops led by a dictator in Berlin were defeating one friendly democracy after another. And Soviet forces were on the march, too.
Most Americans still desired neutrality. But how long could America remain at peace. And was peace worth the cost of just sitting by and watching friends like France and Britain be bombed and invaded.
But other groups, like the America First Committee, demanded that the United States stay out of another bloody European conflict. Some of the closest supporters of Roosevelt's foreign policies were Republicans.
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And some members of his own Democratic Party opposed his policies. Even so, foreign policy was one of the main issues in the presidential election campaign of nineteen forty. The Democrats, once again, nominated Franklin Roosevelt for president.
The Republicans had several popular candidates who were interested in campaigning against Roosevelt. At first, it seemed that these candidates would fight it out in a bitter nominating convention in Philadelphia.
But to everyone's surprise, a little-known candidate named Wendell Willkie suddenly gained a great deal of support and won the nomination. He was friendly, a good businessman, and a strong speaker.
He seemed honest. And he seemed to understand foreign policy. Most important, Willkie had a progressive record on many social issues.
He was not the kind of traditional conservative Republican that Roosevelt had defeated so easily in his first two campaigns.
Instead, Willkie could claim to represent the common man just as well as Roosevelt. And he offered the excitement of a change in leadership. While Willkie and Roosevelt began campaign battles with words, German and British planes were fighting real battles with bullets over the English channel.
Winston Churchill sent a desperate message to Roosevelt. The British prime minister said Britain could not fight alone much longer. It needed help immediately.
But neither could he refuse such an urgent appeal from the British. Roosevelt and Willkie discussed the situation. Willkie agreed not to criticize Roosevelt when the president sent fifty ships to the British navy.
He also supported Roosevelt's order for American young men to give their names to army officials so they could be called if fighting began. In this way, Roosevelt and Willkie tried to keep America's growing involvement in the war from becoming a major political issue in the election.
Roosevelt won twenty-seven million votes to twenty-two million for Willkie. This made Roosevelt the first and only man in American history to win a third term in the White House.
Soon after the election, President Roosevelt received a letter from Winston Churchill. The British prime minister wrote that Britain urgently needed more arms and planes to fight Germany. Roosevelt agreed.