American Preparation for World War II

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), like most Americans, was not eager for the United States to enter a global military conflict. But unlike the ardent isolationists, he also figured it was inevitable. Even though American troops didn't officially join World War II until December 1941, FDR started preparations in 1940. They included

  • Authorizing the doubling of the size of the U.S. Navy.

  • Pledging to come to the aid of any North, Central, or South American country that was attacked.

  • Pushing Congress to approve the first peacetime military draft in U.S. history. The draft required the registration of all men between the ages of 21 and 35 (about 16 million men).

    About 1.2 million were drafted for a year’s service, and 800,000 reservists were called to active duty. In October 1941, just before the 18-month period expired, Congress fortuitously voted to extend the draft. But it was a very close vote: 203 to 202.

  • Trading 50 old U.S. Navy destroyers to England in return for leases on military bases on English possessions in the Caribbean.

  • Pushing the Lend-Lease Act through Congress, which authorized FDR to sell, trade, lease, or just plain give military hardware to any country he thought would use it to further the security of the United States.

  • Ordering the Navy to attack on sight German submarines that had been preying on ships off the East Coast.

Despite all the preparations, many Americans still refused to believe war was inevitable. Then, on a sleepy Sunday morning less than three weeks before Christmas, 1941, a Japanese naval and air force launched a surprise attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. More than 2,400 U.S. military men were killed, 150 planes were destroyed, and eight battleships were sunk or badly damaged.

December 8, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, FDR announced that the United States would be joining World War II.

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