With today being December 7, it’s good to remind ourselves of the infamous actions of President Franklin Roosevelt to involve the United States in World War II.
When the federal government was called into existence with the Constitution, there was a deep antipathy toward standing armies. Our American ancestors knew that European rulers had long used standing armies not only as a way to get embroiled in foreign wars but also as the primary means to oppress people at home, especially with infringements on civil liberties, fiscal irresponsibility, monetary debauchery, and economic misery that accompany such wars.
While the federal government had a small, basic military force, it was nothing like the vast, permanent standing military establishments that had long characterized European countries. There were also no intelligence agency (CIA), surveillance agency (NSA), and federal police force (FBI). That’s because our ancestors viewed such totalitarian apparatuses as antithetical to the principles of a free society.
In fact, if the Constitutional Convention had proposed the type of welfare-warfare state that Americans have today, there is no doubt that our American ancestors would have summarily rejected it.
The philosophy that guided our ancestors throughout the 19th century was reflected in the speech that John Quincy Adams delivered to Congress on the Fourth of July, 1821. He said while there are lots of bad things that happen around the world, the U.S. government does not go abroad “in search of monsters to destroy.” He said that if the U.S. government were ever to abandon that philosophy of non-intervention into the affairs, wars, and conflicts of foreign countries, it would inevitably alter the lives of the American people in severely negative ways.
The big turn came in 1898 during the Spanish-American War. The U.S. government decided to intervene in the war for independence that Spanish colonies in the New World were waging against the Spanish Empire. U.S. officials said that they were intervening simply to help the colonies gain their independence. It was a lie. In fact, the U.S. government intervened in the conflict to replace Spain as the imperial controller of Spain’s former colonies. That’s how the U.S. government ended up with its never-ending obsession with controlling Cuba. That’s how it acquired a U.S. military base in a foreign country — Guantanamo Bay. It’s how the U.S. government ended up torturing and killing countless Filipinos who immediately began waging a new war of independence, albeit an unsuccessful one, against the United States.
Then came World War I. President Wilson decided that the United States should abandon its century’s traditional policy of non-intervention by entering that conflict. Wilson figured that the U.S. government was powerful enough to finally bring an end to the wars that perpetually afflicted Europe. He also believed that U.S. intervention would, once and for all, make the world safe for democracy.
Wilson’s intervention accomplished absolutely nothing. Within 20 years, Europe was a war again. Democracy had been smashed in Germany and was also non-existent in other European countries. American soldiers had been killed and maimed in WWI for nothing.
Also, John Quincy Adams had been proven correct. World War I brought with it horrific assaults on the rights and liberties of the American people by their very own federal government.
But there was a notable feature about the Spanish-American War and World War I — declarations of war from Congress. That’s because the Constitution requires, as a matter of law, a congressional declaration of war as a prerequisite to the president’s waging war. Under the law, no declaration, no war.
The American people had learned their lesson after World War I. They had seen the disastrous effects of foreign interventionism, not only over there but also here at home. They were determined to restore America’s heritage of non-interventionism. They were determined to stay out of World War II.
But President Roosevelt was equally determined to involve the United States in the war. That’s not to say, however, that he told Americans that. On the contrary, he expressly told them during his 1940 campaign for reelection that he felt the same way they did. He told them that he was as opposed to U.S. re-involvement in foreign wars as they were. In one speech, he told Americans, “I have said this before, but I shall say it again and again and again: Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars.”
But as it turns out, FDR was lying — intentionally and deliberately lying. In fact, he was secretly and surreptitiously doing everything he could to get the United States into a war that had, once again, broken out between England and France and Germany.
Roosevelt knew he had an enormous obstacle: the Constitution. Remember: That’s the law that the people have imposed on U.S. officials, the law that precludes the president from waging war without a declaration of war from Congress. Roosevelt knew that since the overwhelming percentage of Americans were opposed to entering the war, the chances of securing a congressional declaration of war were zilch.
So, what FDR first did was try everything to provoke the Germans into attacking the United States. In that way, he could say, “We’ve been attacked! We’re innocent! We now need to defend ourselves. Give me my declaration of war.”
But the Germans understood what FDR was trying to accomplish and refused to take his bait. Germany had no interest in going to war again against the United States, especially since it was the U.S. intervention in World War I that had led to the total defeat of Germany — a defeat so total, in fact, that it ultimately led to the conditions that give rise to Hitler and the Nazis a little more than a decade later.
So, stymied by the German refusal to take his bait, FDR focused on the Pacific, with the hope and aim of provoking the Japanese into attacking the United States, thereby hopefully providing him with a “back door” to the war in Europe.
But Japan was no more interested in war with the United States than Germany was, especially since Japan had its hands filled with its war against China.
So, FDR went to work. To prevent the Japanese military from securing the oil it needed to maintain its military operations in China, he imposed an embargo on oil shipments to Japan. He also froze all Japanese bank accounts in the United States. When the Japanese attempted to negotiate a settlement of these matters, FDR intentionally proposed humiliating terms to them.
Finally, the Japanese decided that they had no choice but to try to break out of the noose that Roosevelt was tightening around their neck. The figured that if they could destroy the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor, that would give them a free hand in securing oil supplies in the Dutch East Indies without U.S. interference.
By provoking Japan into “firing the first shot,” FDR succeeded in galvanizing Americans to abandon their non-interventionist position and support FDR’s “defensive” war against Japan. Moreover, as part of its alliance with Japan, Germany declared war on the United States, which guaranteed U.S. involvement in the European war.
FDR’s scheme had worked. He got what he wanted.
For a long time, Roosevelt apologists maintained that he was genuinely shocked about the “surprise” attack on Pearl Harbor. Most of them now admit that Roosevelt provoked the Japanese into attacking U.S. forces somewhere in the Pacific with the aim of involving the United States into the war. They said that it was good that he did because otherwise Germany would have ended up conquering the United States and the rest of the world, notwithstanding the fact that Germany lacked the military ability to cross the English Channel and conquer England and also notwithstanding the fact that America was never conquered by the Soviet Union, which was just as bad as Nazi Germany.
People still debate whether FDR had foreknowledge of the attack at Pearl Harbor. As the circumstantial evidence has leaked out over the decades, it leads inexorably in the direction that FDR did know and simply looked the other way.
But one thing is now virtually undisputable: That Roosevelt hoped that his actions were going to produce a Japanese attack on U.S. forces somewhere and that he turned a blind eye to it. Roosevelt knew that the two likeliest targets were Hawaii and the Philippines, where U.S. troops were stationed as a consequence of the U.S. conquest of that country in 1898.
Despite FDR’s machinations to get the United States into the war, let’s give credit where credit is due: At least he, like Wilson, recognized the need under the law to secure a congressional declaration of war before he could legally wage war against another country. As we all know, presidents today don’t bother with complying with that part of the Constitution, which is the higher law that the American people have imposed on the president and other federal officials.