Was Franklin Roosevelt an interventionist, an isolationist or an internationalist? Discuss with reference to events between March 1933 and December 1941.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt is an ideologically elusive figure; indeed as was swiftly evident it is impossible to pigeon hole him into any of these three convenient categories. Elements of all three views can be identified at various junctures of his presidency up to Pearl Harbor in the final weeks of 1941. This essay will argue that generally FDR was most accurately described as an internationalist. However, although this best describes his personal views throughout, the reality was much more complex. Roosevelt appeared to exhibit isolationist qualities during the early years of his presidency. The importance of American public opinion is considered as an important factory here in tempering Roosevelt’s views and limiting his available options. Domestic considerations in the early 1930s, particularly economic were also restricted the potential for an isolationist outlook. However, as the period progresses these restrictions become less significant and the internationalist outlook of FDR can often be seen expressed more freely due to changes in attitudes and events in Europe and Asia. Furthermore, there is also some evidence to suggest that Roosevelt’s attitudes changed over time, becoming more interventionist and it is this possibility which will be considered finally as he has been considered by some to have skilfully manipulated American public opinion in favour of war.
Franklin Roosevelt was certainly not an isolationist, yet there were some aspects – particularly in the early years of his premiership – where isolationist influences could certainly be identified. FDR did not intervene in either the Asian or European spheres of conflict until late on, after the defeat of France and the attack on Pearl Harbor. Indeed even after the fall of the French, Britain’s staunch defence in 1941 and the entry of the Soviet Union into the war reassured America. Steven Casey argues that even then FDR was reluctant to formally enter the war formally; it was not until the German Wehrmacht approached Moscow that fears of a German controlled Continent that threatened Europe approached reality. After all Hitler who declared war on America in December 1941 and not the other way around. Even Roosevelt’s propaganda campaign, which has often been identified as fostering American interventionism against Germany has been considered ‘cautious’. Indeed it largely focused its attack against the Nazi’s rather than the German population as a whole. However, the reason behind Roosevelt’s reluctance to enter the conflict was not isolationism on his part but had more to do with the attitudes of the American populace. With the economic conditions of the early 1930s and pacifist opposition to involvement in foreign conflict that stemmed from a desire to not repeat the disaster of World War I, the American population held views that were close to avoidance of international conflict ‘at any cost’. Consequently Robert Dallek has significantly illustrated how FDR was not a free agent and that he had to adjust his policies and public pronouncements to the mood of the 1930s which he considers isolationist. There were both ‘domestic pressures’ and ‘international constraints’ which limited Roosevelt’s freedom of action. His refusal to oppose German, Italian, and Japanese aggression in the 1930s was not a case of his own isolationist agenda, but part of an effort on his part not too lose public support and retain the ‘ability to influence critical developments at home’. The American opinion during the has been identified to consist of ‘an overwhelming desire to remain at peace coupled with a fear of foreign entanglements.’ Indeed such sentiments led to Congress passing Neutrality Legislation from 1935-7 which placed a prohibition on the shipment of arms and munitions to foreign belligerents....
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