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Developing Dangers 1936-1937

Warnings by President Roosevelt and Secretary Hull

THROUGHOUT 1935 the world peace structure had continued to deteriorate. In Europe, Germany swept away the disarmament provisions of the Versailles Treaty when in March Hitler announced the existence of a German air force and the reestablishment of conscription. In the Far East, Japan was increasing its military and naval strength and undertaking limited military actions for extending domination over China. At the end of the year Italian armies were advancing steadily into Ethiopia.

It was against this background that President Roosevelt delivered his Armistice Day address on November 11, 1935. He made clear that in foreign policy the primary purpose of the United States was to avoid being drawn into war; that we sought also in every practicable way to promote peace and to discourage war. He said that jealousies between nations continued, armaments were increasing, national ambitions were disturbing world peace and, most serious of all, confidence in the sacredness of international contracts was declining; we could not and must not hide our concern for grave world dangers, we could not "build walls around ourselves and hide our heads in the sand", we must go forward with all our strength to strive for international peace. He declared that aggression on the part of the United States was an impossibility; that defense against aggression by others was our accepted policy; and that the measure of defense would be solely the amount necessary to safeguard the United States against the armaments of others. In conclusion, he said that the more greatly others decreased their armaments, the more quickly and surely would we decrease ours. (58)

In an address to Congress on January 3, 1936 President Roosevelt warned that developments in international affairs had resulted in a situation which might lead to the "tragedy of general war". He said that nations seeking expansion had reverted to belief in the law of the sword, to the fantastic conception that they alone were chosen to fulfill a mission and that all the other human beings in the world must learn from and be subject to them.

The President in this address summarized the foreign policy of the United States: We sought earnestly to limit world armaments and to attain the peaceful solution of disputes among nations; we sought by every legitimate means to exert our moral influence against discrimination, intolerance, and autocracy, and in favor of freedom


of expression, equality before the law, religious tolerance, and popular rule; in the field of commerce we undertook to encourage a more reasonable interchange of the world's goods; in the field of international finance we had, so far as we were concerned, put an end to dollar diplomacy; we followed a twofold neutrality policy toward nations engaging in wars not of immediate concern to the Americas; that is, we declined to encourage the prosecution of war by permitting belligerents to obtain arms from the United States and sought to discourage the export to belligerent nations of abnormal quantities of other war materials. Finally, the President said that if peace continued to be threatened by those who sought selfish power, the United States and the rest of the Americas could play but one role: through a well-ordered neutrality to do nothing to encourage war; through adequate defense to avoid embroilment and attack; and through example and all legitimate encouragement and assistance to persuade other nations "to return to the days of peace and goodwill". (64)

In line with the policy enunciated by the President of restricting the export to belligerents of abnormal quantities of war materials which had been urged by the Government since the beginning of the war between Italy and Ethiopia, a "neutrality" bill containing such a provision was introduced in Congress in January 1936. Secretary of State Hull, in supporting this proposal before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, emphasized that a neutral should not "deliberately help to feed the fires and flames of war" by delivering essential materials to belligerents, thus helping "not only to carry on war but to prolong it indefinitely". This proposal was not adopted by the Congress.

By a joint resolution approved February 29, 1936 the Neutrality Act of 1935 was amended to prohibit persons in the United States from making loans or extending credits to belligerents. Upon signing this joint resolution President Roosevelt referred to the fact that the "high moral duty" which he had urged on our people of restricting their exports of essential war materials to either belligerent to approximately the normal peacetime basis had not been the subject of legislation. Nevertheless, he said, it was clear that greatly to exceed that basis "would serve to magnify the very evil of war which we seek to prevent". Therefore, the President renewed the appeal to the people of the United States "that they so conduct their trade with belligerent nations that it cannot be said that they are seizing new opportunities for profit or that by changing their peacetime trade they give aid to the continuation of war". (68, 69)


The United States Minister to Switzerland, Hugh Wilson, had reported to Secretary Hull in November 1935 that the states of Europe, while fully realizing and apprehensive of the dangers inherent in Italy's course in Ethiopia, had no real fear of Italy; that, however, they were "profoundly afraid of Germany". In a letter of January 1936 Mr. Wilson reported to the Secretary that while three months earlier the thoughts of European statesmen were concentrated on Africa, now the minds of these men were fixed on the intensity of the rearmament of Germany. He said that there was indisputable evidence of the magnitude and intensity of German military preparations; that while there might be a question as to the exact stage of the development of this preparation, there was no doubt that it was on a scale to cause alarm. The idea was becoming prevalent, he said, "that German rearmament on this scale and in this tempo can be designed only for the purposes of aggression". (59, 66)

During a conversation of January 22, 1936 with the British Ambassador, Sir Ronald Lindsay, Secretary Hull said that "the most incomprehensible circumstance in the whole modern world is the ability of dictators, overnight almost, to stand 35 million Italians and 65 million Germans on their heads and so dominate their mental processes that they arise the next morning and insist on being sent to the first-line trenches without delay". (65)

Less than two months later, Hitler struck a blow at the peace of Europe. In flagrant violation of the Locarno Pact he proceeded in March 1936 to occupy and fortify the demilitarized Rhineland. This action was taken despite the fact that two years previously Hitler had said that after the solution of the Saar question the German Government was ready to accept not only the letter but also the spirit of the Locarno Pact.

Civil Conflict in Spain

Another threat to peace occurred in July 1936 with the outbreak of a civil conflict in Spain. The attitude of this Government toward the conflict was based squarely on the consistent policy of the United States of promoting peace and at the same time avoiding involvement in war situations. All acts and utterances of this Government in relation to the conflict were directed toward the attainment of these controlling objectives. In line with these objectives, this Government in August 1936 declared a policy of strict non-interference in the struggle and announced that the export of


arms from the United States to Spain would be contrary to this policy. In line also with these objectives, the Congress of the United States four months later passed, by a unanimous vote of the Senate and by a vote of 406 to 1 in the House of Representatives, a joint resolution prohibiting export of arms to the contending factions in Spain. (73, 75, 81)

Shortly after the beginning of the conflict in Spain it became evident that several of the principal powers of Europe were projecting themselves into the struggle through the furnishing of arms and war materials and other aid to the contending sides, thus creating real danger of a spread of the conflict into a European war. In an effort to remedy this menacing situation, a committee was set up in London, by agreement of the European governments, to carry out a concerted policy of non-intervention and to put an end to export of arms to Spain.

As the Spanish civil conflict continued, and as the European non-intervention agreement was flagrantly violated, the policy of non-interference pursued by the United States aroused criticism from partisans in this country of one or the other of the contending factions in Spain. There was a feeling in some quarters that our policy should be changed. This Government, however, was convinced that in the light of growing complications and in view of its thoroughly unsatisfactory experience during 1935 in endeavoring to preserve peace in the Italo-Ethiopian situation a change in its policy with regard to Spain would in no way serve the cause of peace but on the contrary would create for this country a serious risk of military involvement. Consequently the policy announced by the Executive and unanimously adopted by the Congress was pursued by the United States throughout the period of the Spanish civil conflict. (107)

Addresses by President Roosevelt and Secretary Hull

On August 14, 1936 President Roosevelt delivered an address at Chautauqua, New York, in which he declared that the United States had sought steadfastly to assist international movements to prevent war. The President said that we shunned political commitments which might entangle the United States in foreign wars; that we avoided connection with the political activities of the League of Nations but had cooperated wholeheartedly in the social and humanitarian work at Geneva. He said that we were not isolationists "except so far as we seek to isolate ourselves completely from war";


that we must remember that so long as war existed there would be some danger that even the nation most ardently desiring peace might be drawn into war; and that no matter how well we were supported by neutrality legislation, we must remember that no laws could be provided to cover every contingency. (74)

In an address delivered at Washington on September 7, 1936 Secretary of State Hull gave pointed warning of the threat to peace which was mounting throughout the world. He said that in all history the weight of the responsibility of governments and peoples to preserve the peace had never been so great. He warned that if war came it would be fought not alone by uniformed armies and navies, but by the entire populations of the countries involved; that airplanes, poison gas, and other modern fighting equipment would make the world a "veritable inferno". He believed that a general war would set loose forces that would be beyond control; that these forces might bring about a virtual destruction of modern political thought and possibly a shattering of our civilization.

The one hope of the world, he said, was that governments and peoples might fully realize the solemn responsibility resting upon all of them and that realistic envisaging of the inevitable consequences would "prevent their flying at each other's throats". (76)

In an address of the following week, Secretary Hull dealt with the criticism that the United States declined to depart from its traditional policy and join with other governments in collective arrangements carrying the obligation of employing force, if necessary, in case disputes with other countries brought them into war. He declared that we could not accept that responsibility, which carried with it direct participation in the political relations of the whole world, because current experience indicated how uncertain was the possibility that we could vitally influence the policies or activities of other countries from which war might come. He said that the statesmen of the world should continue their effort to effect security by arrangements which would prove more durable than those which had been broken.

Japanese Expansion and Attitude

Late in 1935 Japan attempted to promote a so-called "autonomy movement" in North China, with a view to detaching the northern provinces from the rest of China and bringing them under Japanese domination. Secretary of State Hull took notice of this situation in a public statement of December 5, 1935. He called attention to the


interests of the United States involved in that area and to the treaty rights and obligations of the several powers there. He declared that political disturbances and pressures gave rise to uncertainty and tended to produce economic and social dislocations which made difficult the enjoyment of treaty rights and the fulfilment of treaty obligations.

In this statement the Secretary emphasized the importance "in this period of world-wide political unrest and economic instability that governments and peoples keep faith in principles and pledges." He declared that the United States respected the treaties to which it was a party and bespoke respect by all nations for treaties solemnly entered into. (62)

During a conversation of December 23, 1935 with a member of the staff of the United States Embassy in Tokyo, Mr. Saburo Kurusu, a high Japanese Foreign Office official, stated that Japan was destined to be the leader of the oriental civilization and would in course of time be the "boss" of a group comprising "China, India, the Netherlands East Indies, etc." Mr. Kurusu said that while Japan led the oriental civilization, the United States would lead the occidental civilization; that the two countries must not fight, as that would be suicidal. He said that Great Britain was "degenerating" and that the Russians were dreamers and never would "amount to anything". Mr. Kurusu went on to say that he opposed Japan's "hypocritical attitude" toward treaties for collective security; that he was critical of his own country for signing agreements which could not be carried out if Japan wanted to progress in the world. (63)

London Naval Conference

At the London Naval Conference of 1935-36 Japan endeavored to have substituted for the 5-5-3 ratio of the naval treaties of 1922 and 1930 a "common upper limit" for all powers. This proposal would have established a uniform maximum level for fleets of all nations without taking into consideration their respective needs and responsibilities. None of the other states represented could accept this proposal even as a basis for negotiation. The United States opposed the Japanese proposal, according to a statement by Chairman Norman H. Davis of the United States delegation, on the ground that "equal security" had been achieved under the Washington and London Naval Treaties and that, owing to the difference in relative needs and vulnerability, "naval parity would give to Japan naval superiority". Japan withdrew from the Conference and as a result


no quantitative naval limitation treaty was concluded. Despite the departure of the Japanese representatives from the Conference, the United States, Great Britain, and France concluded a treaty of qualitative naval limitation on March 25, 1936. The treaty provided, however, that if the national security of a contracting party should be menaced by naval construction by powers outside the scope of the treaty, it could depart from the qualitative limits. (71)

At the time of the signature of the treaty, Chairman Davis of the United States delegation and British Foreign Secretary Eden exchanged letters declaring that there would be no competitive naval building between the two countries and that the principle of parity would be maintained as between their Fleets. Subsequently Japan was approached by the British Government and asked to give assurances that it would adhere in practice to the qualitative limits laid down in the 1936 treaty. Japan declined to give such assurances. Japan's attitude marked the death knell, for the period under consideration, of naval limitation among the great powers.

The United States and Great Britain later invoked the "escalator" clause of the treaty and undertook increased naval building programs.

German-Japanese Anti-Comintern Pact

The Secretary of State discussed the Far Eastern situation on June 12, 1936 with the Japanese Ambassador to Great Britain, Shigeru Yoshida. The Ambassador said that the people of the United States should recognize the rapidly growing population of Japan and the absolute necessity for more territory for their existence. He said that there was misunderstanding and misapprehension on the part of the people of the United States concerning Japanese movements in and about China; that Japanese armaments were not intended for war against any particular country, especially not the United States, but that Japanese naval officials were always undertaking to create additional vacancies and additional room for promotion. This was not convincing to Secretary Hull. He replied that the impression among people in the United States was that Japan sought economic domination, first of eastern Asia, and then of other areas such as it might see fit to dominate; that this would mean political as well as military domination in the end.

The Secretary said that there was no reason why countries like the United States, Great Britain, and Japan could not in an amicable spirit and with perfect justice and fairness agree to abide by the world-wide principle of equality in commercial and industrial affairs,


and each country solemnly agree not to resort to force in connection with the operation of this rule of equality. He felt that governments should be able to sit down together and in a spirit of fair-dealing confer and collaborate without ceasing until they found a way for amicable and reasonable adjustment; that this would eliminate 90 percent of the occasions for friction between nations. (72)

On November 25, 1936 Japan openly associated itself with Germany by the signature of the Anti-Comintern Pact, whereby the two countries agreed to exchange information on the activities of the Communist International and to consult and collaborate on the necessary preventive measures. While there had been signs for some time of a gradual rapprochement of these two states, this was the first open indication of their common designs in foreign policy. It foreshadowed the parallel courses of aggression which Germany and Japan were to follow during the coming years.

In connection with this agreement, Ambassador Grew reported from Tokyo on December 4, 1936 that the Japanese Foreign Office had denied categorically the existence of an understanding in regard to military matters or Japanese participation in a Fascist bloc. He stated, however, that foreign diplomatic representatives in Tokyo in general were of the opinion that the Japanese and German General Staffs had concluded a secret military understanding. (78)

Inter-American Peace Conference

Representatives of the American republics assembled in conference at Buenos Aires in December 1936. This conference had been suggested by President Roosevelt early in the year for the purpose of determining how the maintenance of peace among the American republics might best be safeguarded. The President felt that steps in this direction would advance the cause of world peace in as much as the agreements which might be reached would supplement and reinforce the efforts of the League of Nations and of other peace agencies seeking to prevent war. (67)

In an address at Buenos Aires on December 5, 1936 Secretary Hull said that the primary purpose of the conference was to "banish war from the Western Hemisphere". He believed that every country must play its part in determining whether the world would slip back toward war and savagery or whether it would maintain and advance the level of civilization and peace. He said that the American republics could not remain unconcerned by the grave and threatening conditions in many parts of the world; that it was now


absolutely clear that each nation in any part of the world was concerned with peace in every part of the world.

The Secretary enumerated in this address eight principles for a comprehensive peace program: 1. Peoples must be educated for peace; each nation must make itself safe for peace. 2. Frequent conferences between representatives of nations and intercourse between their peoples are essential. 3. The consummation of five well-known peace agreements will provide adequate machinery. 4. In the event of war there should be a common policy of neutrality. 5. The nations should adopt commercial policies to bring each that prosperity upon which enduring peace is founded. 6. Practical international cooperation is essential to restore indispensable international relationships. 7. International law should be reestablished, revitalized, and strengthened; armies and navies are no permanent substitute for its great principles. 8. Faithful observance of undertakings between nations is the foundation of international law, and rests upon moral law, the highest of all law. (79)

The American republics at this conference agreed upon a convention for the maintenance, preservation, and re-establishment of peace, which contained a procedure for consultation among the signatories. The conference also approved a declaration stating that every act susceptible of disturbing the peace of America affects each and every one of the republics and justifies the initiation of the procedure of consultation provided for in the above-mentioned convention; that territorial conquest is proscribed, and consequently no acquisition made through violence shall be recognized; that intervention by one state in the internal or external affairs of another is condemned; that forcible collection of pecuniary debts is illegal; that any difference or dispute between the American nations shall be settled by the methods of conciliation, or unrestricted arbitration, or through operation of international justice. (80)

In a conversation with Italian Ambassador Suvich a few months later, on July 6, 1937, the Secretary of State reviewed at length the increasingly critical world situation and cited the Buenos Aires peace program as an example for the rest of the world. He said that the program contained a practicable set of principles and policies as the single alternative to the disastrous course of affairs in Europe. He said that the only foundations which Europe presented for restoring international order were the "narrowest, cut-throat, trouble-breeding methods of trading and a wild, runaway race in armaments"; that this was in striking contrast with the program of the 21 American republics, which provided a solid and


permanent foundation for a stable structure of business, of peace, and of government. The Secretary said that the single question was whether the civilized nations would wait until it was too late before proclaiming and pursuing this practical and constructive course. The American nations had offered this program and were "pleading to all other civilized nations to embrace it and give it support without a day's delay". Never before, he said, had there been such an opportunity for some important country in Europe to furnish leadership with just this sort of program. When the Italian Ambassador said that the time was not propitious for such a program, the Secretary replied that if each nation waited until the time was exactly right from its standpoint, the time would never become propitious.

Referring to the dangerous situation in Europe, the Secretary remarked that another war or a deep-seated economic panic would be utterly destructive of everything worthwhile in the western world and yet absolutely nothing was being done in the way of permanent planning for peace and general stability. There were, he continued, probably four million wage-earners in Germany engaged in armament production; relative numbers in other countries were likewise engaged; within another 18 months, when the resources of most countries necessary for further increased armaments were exhausted, it would not be humanly possible to find other gainful and productive employment for all the millions of these wage-earners. And yet, "with the roar of the economic and the military Niagara below, now within distinct hearing, and with the certain knowledge that the happening of either catastrophe would be fatal, nations are drifting and drifting and drifting with no broad or permanent or peaceful planning".

The United States, Secretary Hull said, while taking every precaution to keep aloof from political and military involvements abroad, strongly felt that each civilized country had the unshirkable responsibility of making a real contribution to promote peace. The Secretary declared that the United States and the other American nations were behind the broad program to which he had referred and were looking "longingly" to leading countries in Europe to offer a similar contribution to peace and economic well-being. (84)

National Defense

President Roosevelt stated the policy of the Government toward national defense in a letter of April 20, 1936 to the Daughters of the American Revolution. He said that it was the aim of the Government


"to make our national defense efficient and to keep it adequate"; that what was necessary for adequate defense was not always the same and was bound to change with changing conditions; that if this were a disarming world our needs obviously would be proportionally decreasing; that he regretted that the world of the time was not a disarming world; and that our defense forces were "on a stronger peace-time basis than before", and it was our purpose to keep them that way.

The President said that we would press continually for limitation of armament by international agreement and that if this should fail, we would not increase our own armament unless other powers by increasing theirs made increase by us necessary to our national safety. (70)

In an address delivered at New York on September 15, 1936 Secretary Hull stated that the defense forces of the United States had been substantially increased; that this appeared essential in the face of the universal increase of armaments elsewhere and the disturbed conditions of the world; that "we would not serve the cause of peace" if we had inadequate means of self-defense; and that we must be sure that in our desire for peace we would not appear weak and unable to resist the imposition of force or to protect our just rights. (77)

President Roosevelt, on January 8, 1937, announced that he had directed the Navy Department to proceed with the construction of two replacement battleships. This was the first battleship construction to be undertaken by the United States since the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922. (82)

Throughout this period the United States Army was proceeding with an expansion program which increased its enlisted strength from 118,000 in 1935 to 158,000 in 1937. Notwithstanding this increase, the Secretary of War said in his annual report of 1937 that the Army was not keeping pace with the enormous expansions in the military establishments of other leading powers and recommended that it be further strengthened.


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