Before the United States joined World War II in response to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the great battle had been raging in Europe since 1939. While the British and Russians struggled against the German Reich, the United States remained officially neutral and refused to enter the war.
What was keeping the American government from sending troops to Europe sooner and what exactly was the United States doing before the Japanese launched their attack on Oahu? Let’s explore the American mindset and history from 1939 to December 8th, 1941, when war was declared on Japan.
Stark Contrast of Modern America
It often seems that modern day American leaders and many of the American people are eager to intervene in conflicts that, ultimately, may have nothing to do with the country. Over 75 years ago, the exact opposite could be said.
With Europe locked in battle, President Franklin D. Roosevelt supported the idea of America going to war, giving Great Britain the backing it needed, but FDR faced his own struggles. The United States didn’t want to intervene.
During an emergency cabinet meeting called by Roosevelt immediately after the war erupted in Europe, it was agreed that the United States would remain an outside influence unless directly threatened or attacked.
Even had the government backed the war, the United States was still getting over the turmoil of World War I. The general public was not ready to join another war, opting for neutrality. A poll taken in 1939, after the outbreak of war, showed 94% as being against going to war.
A Lackluster Military
Even if the United States had wanted to enter the war, its military force was simply not ready. Facing off against millions of Germans, the American military was only about 100,000 strong without a draft. To enter the European crisis would likely mean a complete decimation of America’s forces.
Beyond a lack of force, the United States military was generally behind on weaponry, with much of it dating back to the First World War. The current force wasn’t ready for war against the better-trained Germans. Even if the numbers were there, the preparedness was not.
The American Economy
The war in Europe didn’t seem to pose any threat to the American economy and joining it only served to threaten its stability. Though not actively participating, the US was actually benefiting from the conflict, manufacturing military equipment and vehicles for the Allied forces. Without pumping that money right back into the military, it served to bolster the country’s economy.
Then It All Changed
With one massive attack on American territory in 1941, the entire outlook of the country changed. Patriotism took over and, without pause, that 94% opposed to intervention vanished. Congress reversed their vote of neutrality and opted to fight back against would-be aggressors.
On December 8th, 1941, while the wreckage of Pearl Harbor was still smoldering, the decision to go to war with Japan was made, and all of the hesitation and desire for neutrality was no more than a memory.