Since September 1939, when Nazi Germany invaded Poland, until December 1941, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the United States remained neutral during World War II.In the face of the Axis expansion in Europe and Asia, Americans debated whether to aid the Allies economically or militarily.

From 1920 to 1930, the US government emphasized neutrality, reduced the size of the military, and refrained from joining the League of Nations.

As World War II broke out in September 1939, ninety percent of Americans hoped that the United States would stay out of the conflict.When President Franklin D. Roosevelt attempted to persuade both the US Congress and America's people that the country must prepare for war, he faced a variety of challenges.

The American people and American organizations held an array of viewpoints between "isolation" and "intervention."

Isolation after World War I

In the years following World War I, 70% of Americans surveyed said it was a mistake for the US to fight in the conflict.

After the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, Woodrow Wilson actively promoted US support for the League of Nations, believing that an international representative body could prevent future wars.US senators, however, refused to allow the United States to join the League of Nations.There was no US membership in the League of Nations or ratification of the Treaty of Versailles.

During the 1920s, the US government took steps to reduce the threat of foreign war. .The US also sought to lessen foreign influence by reducing immigration.With the Emergency Quota Act of 1921 and the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924, overall immigration levels were limited and country-specific quotas were enacted to give preference to immigrants from northern and western Europe.It was these laws that marked an end to large-scale immigration to the United States, which reflected a widely held eugenics belief and deep antisemitic prejudice.Arrivals fell to 20% of pre-World War I levels immediately following the end of the war.


With Japan's occupation of Manchuria, Italy's invasion of Ethiopia, Nazi Germany's remilitarization and territorial seizures, and the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, international tension in the 1930s threatened US isolationism.Various Neutrality Acts were passed by Congress as a response to these conflicts to ensure the US did not get involved in them.It was long accepted diplomatic practice that countries unwilling to participate in a conflict had to act neutrally; economic sanctions, or providing arms to one belligerent, but not to the other, could be considered acts of war.As a result, the Neutrality Acts set forth the terms of American neutrality to the world.

Under the Neutrality Act of 1935, exporting arms and ammunition to warring countries was prohibited.As part of the 1937 Neutrality Act, American citizens were prohibited from traveling on ships owned by belligerents, and non-American-owned ships could not carry weapons intended for war zones.However, the Neutrality Act of 1937 was amended at Roosevelt's request to remove impartiality and allow the President to distinguish between countries at war when enforcing neutrality.Cash and carry allowed favorite nations to buy non-military goods in the United States, provided they paid with cash and delivered the goods themselves.


Congress passed the Neutrality Act of 1939 two months after the outbreak of World War II, lifting the 1935 arms embargo and making all sales to belligerent nations cash-and-carry.

The America First Committee and other Non-Interventionist Groups

There were a number of groups who opposed American involvement in World War II. Some, like the National Council for the Prevention of War (founded in 1921 to promote neutrality) and Keep America Out of War Congress (founded in 1938 to stand against Roosevelt's foreign policy), were founded prior to the war.In the aftermath of the war, others united a number of constituencies to lobby more effectively.In order to prevent US intervention, American mothers who did not wish to send their sons to war, German and Italian Americans, Americans of Irish descent, socialists, students, and pacifists, as well as prominent businessmen, intellectuals, and ordinary citizens were pro-active.While Republicans advocated non-intervention more than Democrats, these groups did not follow partisan lines.Most antiwar advocates did not like the label "isolationist" that was applied to them.However, they also argued for a strong national defense and wide economic spheres of influence, even as they tried to convince the United States not to go to war.

.The students, led by. .Democratic senator Burton Wheeler (Montana), Republican senators Gerald Nye (North Dakota) and Robert Taft (Ohio) also served as prominent spokespersons for the group.

.Charles Lindbergh, who achieved fame after piloting the first solo nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927, became the most prominent speaker on the committee.Several radio speeches Lindbergh delivered before AFC's founding opposed US involvement in the war and warned of Germany's military superiority.In a speech September 11, 1941, in Des Moines, Iowa, Lindbergh warned that "the Jewish people" had too much influence over American media and government, and were "war agitators." Newspapers throughout the country decried Lindbergh's remarks as antisemitic.Although the America First Committee did not promote antisemitism, its members tolerated this sentiment.

Interventionist Groups

Non-interventionist and isolationist groups advocated a variety of different policies, but all agreed that the United States should actively support the Allied war effort.

.To raise support for aiding Great Britain, the CDAAA staged rallies and performances, ran newspaper ads, and handed out flyers. The CDAAA eventually had 750 local chapters and an estimated 750,000 members.Due to opposition to communism by many of its members following Nazi Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, the committee dropped "by aiding the Allies" from its name.

Ulric Bell was the founder and leader of a group called "Fight for Freedom" that aggressively advocated entering World War II to defend both Britain and democratic values.Journalists, writers, movie stars, and politicians participated in the Fight for Freedom.Using Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy, Walt Disney Studios created a program cover for a FFF rally.

It has been documented that the Committee to Defend America and Fight For Freedom worked together frequently, often working in coordination with Roosevelt's aides or British propagandists to mobilize public support.Americans were also informed by these organizations that the Axis powers killed civilians in the countries they occupied.CDAAA supporters protested the Nazi regime's mass murder in November 1941 throughout the nation.

Destroyers for Bases

Five days after becoming Great Britain's premier, Winston Churchill sent a cable to President Franklin D. Roosevelt informing him that the British military was in trouble.Winston Churchill asked for the United States to help Great Britain in any way possible, short of declaration of war. This included older naval destroyers, aircraft, and anti-aircraft equipment.Several months after negotiations started, Roosevelt announced the "destroyers for bases" deal on September 2, 1940. The deal included the exchange of 50 old destroyers for a 99-year lease for American military bases on British-controlled territory in Canada and the Caribbean.Deals like this one helped tilt the United States from a policy of isolation from world affairs to a policy of intervention against world powers like the Axis.

Peacetime Military Draft

Four days after Roosevelt announced the "destroyers for bases" deal, the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 was enacted.The act created the first peacetime military draft in US history. It required men 21 to 36 to register for the draft.In the draft, 900,000 men were selected to be enlisted for one year of training and service, and they were only allowed to serve in the Western Hemisphere or in US territories.

The military draft was supported by 78% of Americans polled in December 1940, despite protests on college campuses.

1940 Presidential Election

Franklin Roosevelt was nominated for a third term as president by the Democratic Party in July 1940.Republican candidate Wendell Willkie shared Roosevelt's view that the United States should assist Great Britain actively.With the election approaching, Willkie began to make speeches warning Americans that a vote for Roosevelt would mean a vote for war.When the polls began to narrow a few weeks before the election, Roosevelt told voters, "We will not join foreign wars and we will not deploy our armed forces outside of the Americas unless there is an attack." In the end, Roosevelt captured reelection with 55 percent of the vote and a 449-82 victory in the electoral college.As a result of victory in the election, FDR took more decisive action during his third term to prepare the country for war.


.Roosevelt responded during a fireside chat on December 29 that the United States should fabricate planes, ships, guns, and ammunition for Great Britain, ensuring that the United States would be the great arsenal of democracy.The purpose of supplying Great Britain, he explained, "is to keep war away from our country and from our people." But, by 1941, fewer Americans believed the United States could avoid war.

Roosevelt's congressional allies introduced HR 1776 in January 1941, which gave the president authority to "sell, transfer title to, exchange, lend, lease, or otherwise dispose of" defense articles to another country.HR 1776 was referred to by America First Committee members as the "War Dictatorship Bill," but most Americans understood it as "Lend-Lease.".According to polls, 68% of Americans support the lend-lease idea.In fact, the Chicago chapter of the America First Committee claimed it collected 700,000 signatures and 328,000 phone calls in opposition to 'the dictator bill.' However, despite non-interventionists' efforts, the bill passed easily, and Roosevelt issued Lend-Lease on March 11, 1941.


Lend-Lease went into effect, and American factories began converting their operations to war-related manufacturing. Non-interventionist and interventionist groups differed over the US's role in transporting supplies to Europe.Roosevelt declared a security zone around the East Coast after declaring an American control over it, and non-interventionists were adamant that he baited German submarines and hoped for an attack that would force the U.S. into war.

Between 1939 and 1941, American public opinion polls consistently indicated the public opposed preemptive war, but they also indicated that Americans' priorities changed.60 percent of Americans believed that aiding Great Britain was more important than keeping the country out of war in May 1940, but by November 1941, 68% believed that aiding Britain was more important.By late 1941, the American people understood that the country would have to go to war in order to help defend Great Britain against Nazi Germany.Even so, it was Japan, a member of the Axis, who effectively ended American debate over whether to intervene in the war.

America Attacked


The vast majority of Americans rallied to defeat the Axis powers as soon as the United States entered World War II. Many of the founders of the America First Committee and their supporters aged 18-30 enlisted in the US military; the group officially disbanded on December 10, 1941.After the United States entered World War II, no mainstream isolationist movement remained.As President Roosevelt told Americans two days after the Pearl Harbor attack: