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European Crisis 1938

United States Rearmament

AS 1937 drew to a close the situation in the world became increasingly threatening. The hostilities between China and Japan raged with growing intensity; in Europe, Spain was torn by a civil struggle which threatened to turn into a general continental war. In November 1937 Italy joined Germany and Japan in the Anti-Comintern Pact. Meanwhile, Germany, arming at a feverish pace, was causing grave apprehension as to its intentions toward the European political structure.

During this period there developed considerable public support in the United States for the adoption of a constitutional amendment requiring a popular vote as prerequisite to a declaration of war by the Congress. Both President Roosevelt and Secretary of State Hull at various times expressed their strong opposition to this proposal. On January 6, 1938 the President wrote to the Speaker of the House of Representatives that such an amendment "would cripple any President in his conduct of our foreign relations" and "would encourage other nations to believe that they could violate American rights with impunity". Secretary Hull on January 8 warned that the proposal would impair the ability of the Government to safeguard the peace of the people of the United States. On January 10 the proposal was voted on by the House of Representatives but was rejected by the close vote of 209 to 188. (101, 102)

President Roosevelt recommended to Congress, in a special message of January 28, 1938, the strengthening of our national defense. The President reported with deep regret that armaments were increasing "at an unprecedented and alarming rate". He called attention to the ominous fact that at least one fourth of the world's population was involved in "merciless devastating conflict" in spite of the fact that most people in most countries wished to live at peace. As Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, the President deemed it his constitutional duty to report to the Congress that the national defense of the United States was, in the light of the increasing armaments of other nations, inadequate for purposes of national security and therefore required increase. The President said that "adequate defense" meant that for the protection not only of our coasts but also of our communities far removed from the coasts, we must keep any potential enemy many hundreds of miles away from our continental


limits. We could not assume, he stated, that our defense would be limited to one ocean and one coast and that the others would certainly be safe. "Specifically and solely because of the piling up of additional land and sea armaments in other countries" the President recommended to Congress that authorizations be granted for substantial increases in military and naval armament. Included were recommendations for increasing by 20 percent the existing naval building program and for appropriations to lay down two additional battleships and two additional cruisers during 1938. (104)

The President's proposals for military and naval rearmament were debated in Congress during the spring of 1938. Doubt was expressed in some quarters that the proposed naval increases were really necessary for the defense of the United States, and several Senators and Representatives voiced the suspicion that the contemplated naval increases were based on an agreement for naval cooperation with some other power, such as Great Britain. Secretary of State Hull took cognizance of these ideas in a letter to a member of Congress on February 10, 1938. He stated categorically his opinion that the proposed naval program was needed for the defense of the United States. Referring to the desire of the people and Government of the United States to keep out of war, he said that those who, with a full sense of responsibility, were advocating this program, were doing so in the belief that its adoption would contribute to achieving this desire. Secretary Hull pointed out that the Navy, even with the proposed increases, would not be able to embark upon offensive or aggressive operations overseas.

The Secretary also declared that the proposed program did not contemplate naval cooperation with any other power in the world that the policy of the United States was to avoid both extreme internationalism and extreme isolation; that, while avoiding alliances and entangling commitments, it was advisable to confer and exchange information with other governments having common objectives and, when practicable, to proceed on parallel lines. Finally, the Secretary said that if every peaceful nation insisted on remaining aloof from every other peaceful nation and on pursuing a policy of armament limitation without reference to relative armaments, the inevitable consequences would be to encourage and even to assist nations inclined to play lawless roles. (105)

The President's proposals for military and naval rearmament were substantially adopted by the Congress.

By July 1, 1938 Secretary of War Woodring was able to report encouraging improvements in the military establishment. He declared,


however, that there were still deficiencies in organization, equipment, and personnel that required correction. The Chief of Staff of the Army, General Malin Craig, pointed out at the same time that the Regular Army ranked only eighteenth among the standing armies of the world.

German Occupation of Austria

During this period Secretary Hull was proceeding on the theory that Germany was "bent on becoming the dominating colossus of continental Europe", as he later said during a conversation with the Canadian Minister. (111)

The Secretary conferred with German Ambassador Dieckhoff on January 14, 1938. He told the Ambassador that the supreme issue of the time was whether the principles underlying the structure of international law and order should be preserved or whether the doctrine of force, militarism, and aggression and destruction of all international law and order should prevail. He said that all nations could with perfect consistency join in support of the former alternative no matter what their form of government. The Secretary said that this program contemplated that the road to permanent peace was based upon these principles which in turn rested upon the solid foundation of economic readjustment. (103)

On March 11, 1938 Hitler sent his armed forces into Austria and on March 13 proclaimed the union of Germany and Austria. This action was taken in violation of Hitler's declaration of three years earlier that Germany had neither the intention nor the wish to annex Austria.

Secretary Hull's Address of March 17

The Secretary of State in an address at Washington, March 17, 1938, declared that the momentous question was whether the doctrine of force would once more become enthroned or whether the United States and other peaceful nations would work unceasingly to preserve law, order, morality, and justice as the bases of civilized international relations.

The Secretary said that the United States might, if it chose, turn its back on the whole problem and decline the responsibility of contributing to its solution. But he warned of what such a choice would involve. It would mean a voluntary abandonment of some of the most important things that had made us great; an abject retreat


before the forces which we had consistently opposed throughout our whole national history. Our security would be menaced as other nations came to believe that through fear or unwillingness we did not propose to protect our legitimate interests abroad, but intended to abandon them at the first sign of danger. The sphere of all of our international relations would shrink until we stood practically alone among the nations, "a self-constituted hermit state". We would find it necessary to reorganize our entire social and economic structure, which would mean lower living standards, regimentation, and wide-spread economic distress.

All this, the Secretary said, would be done in order to avoid war. But, he asked, would this policy give any such assurance? He believed that reason and experience definitely pointed to the contrary. We might seek to withdraw from participation in world affairs, "but we cannot thereby withdraw from the world itself". Isolation, he declared, "is not a means to security; it is a fruitful source of insecurity".

Secretary Hull emphasized that for the sake of our own best interests we must maintain our influence in world affairs and our participation in efforts toward world progress and peace. Only by making our reasonable contribution to a firm establishment of a world order based on law "can we keep the problem of our own security in true perspective, and thus discharge our responsibility to ourselves". (106)

Increased Tension in Europe

The months following the seizure of Austria saw a new wave of tension sweep over Europe. It soon became evident that Hitler, his appetite whetted for further conquests, was casting covetous eyes toward the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. Meanwhile, the ruthless and barbarous persecution of minorities which the Nazis had imposed in Germany was drastically put into effect in Austria.

On July 7, 1938 Secretary Hull talked with the German Ambassador about the European situation. He told the Ambassador that this Government had been earnestly hoping that the German Government would reach a stage where it would decide to support the program of peace and orderly progress which the United States had been striving to keep alive and to advance. The Secretary said that there was only one alternative course-the course of force, militarism, and territorial aggression with all the accompanying hurtful and destructive practices; that this course was leading the world inevitably


backward instead of forward and would sooner or later bring on a general war. (110)

Throughout the summer of 1938 the tension between Germany and Czechoslovakia mounted. Germany launched a "War of nerves" against the latter, and it became evident that Hitler was bent on securing his territorial designs on the Sudetenland, even at the risk of a general war. By the middle of September the crisis was nearing a climax, and all over Europe armies were put on a war footing, The British Government tried to halt the threatened catastrophe when Prime Minister Chamberlain went to Germany for several conferences with Hitler, but this effort appeared fruitless as the latter remained inexorable in his demands upon Czechoslovakia.

In the midst of this tension, President Roosevelt early on September 26 sent a personal message to the heads of the Governments of Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, and Great Britain. The President stated that the fabric of peace on the continent of Europe and possibly throughout the rest of the world was in immediate danger; that the consequences of its rupture were incalculable. He said that the supreme desire of the American people was to live in peace, but in the event of a general war they faced the fact that no nation could escape some measure of its consequences. Referring to the Kellogg-Briand Pact and other instruments for the pacific settlement of disputes, he said that whatever might be the differences in the controversies at issue he was persuaded that there was no problem so difficult or so pressing for solution that it could not be justly solved by resort to reason rather than by resort to force. The President said that so long as negotiations continued there would remain the hope that reason and the spirit of equity might prevail and that the world might thereby escape the madness of a new resort to war. On behalf of the people of the United States and for the sake of humanity everywhere, he appealed for the continuance of negotiations looking to a peaceful, fair, and constructive settlement of the questions at issue. (112)

Later on September 26 President Roosevelt received replies from the Governments of Czechoslovakia, France, and Great Britain assuring him of their desire to avoid recourse to force and of their willingness to search for a peaceful solution. On the same day the President received a reply from Chancellor Hitler which made it clear that if the Sudetenland were not handed over to Germany, Hitler would endeavor to take it by force.

On September 27 Secretary Hull sent urgent instructions to our diplomatic representatives throughout the world to express the opinion


of this Government that no step should be overlooked that might possibly contribute to the maintenance of peace and that if the governments to which they were accredited would send messages to Germany and Czechoslovakia emphasizing the supreme importance of a peaceful settlement of the dispute, the cumulative effect of such an expression of opinion might possibly contribute to the preservation of peace. (113)

In a message of September 27 to Premier Mussolini the President asked whether the latter would extend his help in the continuation of the efforts to arrive at an agreement by negotiation rather than by resort to force. (114)

President Roosevelt on September 27 sent a second appeal to Hitler for the continuance of negotiations until a fair and constructive solution was reached. The President reminded Hitler that negotiations were still open; that they could be continued if he would give the word. Should the need for supplementing them become evident, the President believed that nothing stood in the way of widening their scope into a conference of all the nations directly interested in the controversy. The President said that such a meeting might be held at once in a neutral country in Europe and would offer an opportunity for this and correlated questions to be solved in a spirit of justice and fair dealing. The President concluded his appeal with the statement that "the conscience and the impelling desire of the people of my country demand that the voice of their Government be raised again and yet again to avert and to avoid war". (115)

On September 28, 1938 the German Ambassador called on the Secretary of State. The Secretary referred to the impression created that Hitler was seeking "general dominion by force". The Ambassador hastily denied that Hitler had world ambitions. The Secretary again referred to the question of acquiring dominion generally over territory, and the Ambassador denied again that Germany had such territorial ambitions. (116)


At literally the "eleventh hour", when almost all hope of preventing a general European war had vanished, the heads of government of Great Britain, France, Germany, and Italy agreed to meet at Munich, in a last-minute effort to avoid war. They reached an agreement on September 29, 1938 that the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia be handed over to Germany.

On the next day Secretary Hull, by way of warning against any assumption that the Munich agreement insured peace or was based on


sound principles, and of emphasizing the necessity for the nations of the world to redouble their efforts on behalf of maintaining peace based on such principles, made a statement as follows:

"As to immediate peace results, it is unnecessary to say that they afford a universal sense of relief. I am not undertaking to pass upon the merits of the differences to which the Four-Power Pact signed Munich on yesterday related. It is hoped that in any event the forces which stand for the principles governing peaceful and orderly international relations and their proper application should not relax, but redouble, their efforts to maintain these principles of order under law resting on a sound economic foundation." (117)

A month after the Munich crisis, which had brought Europe close to a general war than it had been since the guns were stilled in November 1918, Secretary of State Hull made another urgent appeal for a return to the ways of peace. In an address on November 1, 1938 the Secretary warned that the world was at a crossroads but that its power of choice was not lost. One of the roads ahead, he said, was that of increased reliance on armed force as an instrument of nation policy, which meant the sacrifice of individual well-being, a regimentation of national life, and a lowering of material, cultural, and spiritual standards. If the nations continued along this road, he declared, they would be marching toward the final catastrophe of new world war, "the horror and destructiveness of which pass human imagination". The other road, he said, was that of reliance on peaceful processes and the rule of law and order in personal and international relations, with the result that vast productive forces would be released for the advancement of mankind and the human mind enabled to turn once more to the arts of peace.

In this address Secretary Hull expressed his conviction that with out economic security and well-being there could be no social or political stability in national life, and that without economic, social and political stability within nations there could be no peaceful and orderly relations among nations. He declared that the withdrawal by a nation from orderly trade relations with the rest of the world inevitably leads to regimentation of all phases of national life, to the suppression of human rights, and frequently to preparation for war and a provocative attitude toward other nations. (119)

Return of United States Ambassador From Germany

During the autumn of 1938 German persecution of the Jews, which had been severe for some time, became increasingly violent and profoundly


shocked the people of the United States. On November 15 President Roosevelt stated that he could "scarcely believe that such things could occur in a twentieth-century civilization". As an expression of the condemnation by the people and Government of the United States, the President ordered Ambassador Hugh Wilson to return from Germany at once. (120)

Lima Conference

With wars and rumors of wars in Europe and Asia, the American republics, at peace with the world, continued their efforts to advance the principles of international law and order and to protect themselves from dangers outside the Western Hemisphere. They had taken definite steps in this direction at Montevideo in 1933 and Buenos Aires in 1936. They assembled again in December 1938 at Lima.

At the Lima conference the 21 American republics agreed upon a "Declaration of the Solidarity of America", which stated in effect: They reaffirmed their continental solidarity and their purpose to collaborate in the maintenance of its underlying principles; faithful to these principles and to their absolute sovereignty, they reaffirmed their decision to maintain and defend them against all foreign intervention or activity that might threaten; they proclaimed their common concern and their determination to make effective their solidarity in case the peace, security, or territorial integrity of any American republic should be threatened; and in order to facilitate consultation, the Foreign Ministers of the American republics agreed to meet whenever it was deemed desirable. (121)

The 21 republics also issued a "Declaration of American Principles" calling for pacific settlement of international differences, proscription of force as an instrument of national or international policy, proscription of intervention; respect for treaties and international law, peaceful collaboration and intellectual interchange among nations, economic reconstruction, and international cooperation. (122)


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