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The 1930s and the Road to World War II  

Steven Casey

The United States was extremely reluctant to get drawn into the wars that erupted in Asia in 1937 and Europe in 1939. Deeply disillusioned with the experience of World War I, when the large number of trench warfare casualties had resulted in a peace that many American believed betrayed the aims they had fought for, the United States sought to avoid all forms of entangling alliances. Deeply embittered by the Depression, which was widely blamed on international bankers and businessmen, Congress enacted legislation that sought to prevent these actors from drawing the country into another war. The American aim was neutrality, but the underlying strength of the United States made it too big to be impartial—a problem that Roosevelt had to grapple with as Germany, Italy, and Japan began to challenge international order in the second half of the 1930s.

Article

Neutrality/Nonalignment and the United States  

Robert Rakove

For almost a century and a half, successive American governments adopted a general policy of neutrality on the world stage, eschewing involvement in European conflicts and, after the Quasi War with France, alliances with European powers. Neutrality, enshrined as a core principle of American foreign relations by the outgoing President George Washington in 1796, remained such for more than a century. Finally, in the 20th century, the United States emerged as a world power and a belligerent in the two world wars and the Cold War. This article explores the modern conflict between traditional American attitudes toward neutrality and the global agenda embraced by successive U.S. governments, beginning with entry in the First World War. With the United States immersed in these titanic struggles, the traditional U.S. support for neutrality eroded considerably. During the First World War, the United States showed some sympathy for the predicaments of the remaining neutral powers. In the Second World War it applied considerable pressure to those states still trading with Germany. During the Cold War, the United States was sometimes impatient with the choices of states to remain uncommitted in the global struggle, while at times it showed understanding for neutrality and pursued constructive relations with neutral states. The wide varieties of neutrality in each of these conflicts complicated the choices of U.S. policy makers. Americans remained torn between memory of their own long history of neutrality and a capacity to understand its potential value, on one hand, and a predilection to approach conflicts as moral struggles, on the other.

Article

The United States and World War II in Europe  

Steve R. Waddell

With the outbreak of war in Europe, a growing fear of and ultimately a concerted effort to defeat Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany defined American involvement. Competing Allied national and strategic interests resulted in serious debates, but the common desire to defeat the enemy proved stronger than any disagreements. President Franklin Roosevelt, understanding the isolationist sentiments of the American public and the dangers of Nazism and Imperial Japan perhaps better than most, carefully led the nation through the difficult period of 1939–1941, overseeing a gradual increase in American military preparedness and support for those standing up to Nazi Germany, as the German military forces achieved victory after victory. Following American entry into the war, strategic discussions in 1942–1943 often involved ambitious American military plans countered by British voices of moderation. The forces and supplies available made a direct invasion of northern France unfeasible. The American desire to launch an immediate invasion across the English Channel gave way to the Allied invasion of North Africa and subsequent assault on Sicily and the Italian peninsula. The Tehran Conference in November 1943 marked a transition, as the buildup of American forces in Europe and the overwhelming contribution of war materials enabled the United States to determine American-British strategy from late 1943 to the end of the war. The final year and a half of the war in Europe saw a major shift in strategic leadership, as the United States along with the Soviet Union assumed greater control over the final steps toward victory over Nazi Germany. By the end of World War II (May 1945 in Europe and September 1945 in Asia), the United States had not only assumed the leadership of the Western Allies, it had achieved superpower status with the greatest air force and navy in the world. It was also the sole possessor of the atomic bomb. Even with the tensions with the Soviet Union and beginnings of a Cold War, most Americans felt the United States was the leader as the world entered the post-war era.

Article

The Role of Congress in the History of US Foreign Relations  

Clay Silver Katsky

While presidents have historically been the driving force behind foreign policy decision-making, Congress has used its constitutional authority to influence the process. The nation’s founders designed a system of checks and balances aimed at establishing a degree of equilibrium in foreign affairs powers. Though the president is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces and the country’s chief diplomat, Congress holds responsibility for declaring war and can also exert influence over foreign relations through its powers over taxation and appropriation, while the Senate possesses authority to approve or reject international agreements. This separation of powers compels the executive branch to work with Congress to achieve foreign policy goals, but it also sets up conflict over what policies best serve national interests and the appropriate balance between executive and legislative authority. Since the founding of the Republic, presidential power over foreign relations has accreted in fits and starts at the legislature’s expense. When core American interests have come under threat, legislators have undermined or surrendered their power by accepting presidents’ claims that defense of national interests required strong executive action. This trend peaked during the Cold War, when invocations of national security enabled the executive to amass unprecedented control over America’s foreign affairs.