Why did the USA enter into World War 2?

Shahid H. Raja
6 min readMay 14, 2024

Critically evaluate the causes that led to the American entry into the World War 2. give cogent reasons for your answer. Do you think American entry into the WW2 was inevitable?

Introduction

The causes that led to American entry into World War II were multifaceted and rooted in both domestic and international factors. The most immediate cause of American entry into World War II was the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese on December 7, 1941. This event directly provoked the United States to declare war on Japan the following day. However, it’s important to note that while Pearl Harbor served as the catalyst, tensions and conflicts had been escalating for years before this event.

Why the USA was reluctant to enter WW2?

The reluctance of America to get involved in World War II stemmed from a combination of historical precedent, domestic sentiment, and geopolitical circumstances.

1. Isolationist Tradition:

America’s longstanding tradition of isolationism, rooted in the desire to avoid foreign entanglements and conflicts, influenced public opinion and political discourse. Many Americans, still reeling from the aftermath of World War I and the Great Depression, were wary of being drawn into another costly and bloody conflict. Both in Congress and among the American public, this sentiment had been strengthened by the experience of World War I, which isolationists claimed America had only entered in 1917 because US manufacturers wanted to make a profit by selling munitions.

2. Geographical Distance:

Geographical isolation, with the Atlantic and Pacific oceans acting as natural barriers, reinforced the notion that the United States was protected from the conflicts engulfing Europe and Asia. The outbreak of full-scale conflict between Japan and China in July 1937 had little to do with the USA and its people.

Neither did Germany’s pre-war actions in the 1930s: remilitarisation, sending troops into the Rhineland in 1936, forced unification with Austria, and destruction of Czechoslovakia after the 1938 Sudenten crisis. Even Hitler’s invasion of Poland in September 1939, and the declaration of war by Britain and France seemed to have little relevance to the USA. This sense of security contributed to the reluctance to intervene in overseas affairs.

3. Economic Priorities:

Despite President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s vocal opposition to aggression by Japan, Italy, and Germany, opposition to intervention persisted within Congress and among the American public. Strong isolationist voices within Congress, even within Roosevelt’s own Democratic Party, resisted calls for intervention.

The slow recovery from the Great Depression, marked by high unemployment and economic instability, prioritized domestic concerns over international engagements. Many Americans believed that resources should be directed towards addressing domestic challenges rather than involving the nation in distant conflicts.

4. Skepticism of Allies:

Some Americans questioned the necessity of aligning with traditional allies, such as Great Britain, viewing their imperial ambitions with suspicion. The reluctance to be drawn into what some saw as wars to perpetuate colonial empires further reinforced the sentiment against intervention.

Why did the USA enter WW2?

However, America’s stance shifted significantly in the face of changing global circumstances:

1. Shift in Domestic Political Landscape

President Roosevelt was a strong advocate of assertive foreign policy. Already in September 1940, he had provided 50 obsolete American destroyers to Britain but was handicapped because of the absence of clear cut support in both houses. The Senate remained securely Democratic, but in the House of Representatives, the result was only slightly better for the Democrats than in 1938, with Roosevelt’s party winning 267 seats out of 435. The opposition Republicans won nearly 40% of the seats.

Victory at the polls allowed the re-elected Roosevelt more freedom of action; he used his presidential powers to implement a decidedly one-sided neutrality. Now he declared that America would be an “Arsenal of Democracy”, and he succeeded by March 1941 in putting through Congress Lend-Lease legislation, providing arms to Britain without direct payment. In August Roosevelt and Winston Churchill staged a spectacular summit aboard warships off Newfoundland; they issued the Atlantic Charter, a joint declaration opposing acts of international aggression and openly condemning Hitler and Nazism. In September the president ordered that the US Navy begin escorting British convoys

2. Expansion of Manifest Destiny

Although Manifest Destiny primarily focused on the belief in American territorial expansion across the North American continent, driven by notions of cultural superiority and the divine right to expand westward, after World War 1, the USA became an important player in world affairs. Consequently, as an emerging world power, the United States recognized the importance of its global interests and the interconnectedness of international affairs.

The United States recognized the strategic importance of maintaining stability and influence in key regions of the world, particularly Europe and the Pacific. The rise of aggressive and expansionist regimes, such as Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, threatened the balance of power and posed a direct threat to American interests.

The United States viewed itself as a champion of democracy and human rights and felt compelled to support Allied nations in their fight against fascist aggression and totalitarianism. The atrocities committed by Axis powers, including genocide and mass persecution, galvanized public opinion and underscored the moral imperative of opposing such regimes.

The United States had significant economic interests tied to international trade and commerce, making it vulnerable to disruptions caused by conflict and instability. Ensuring access to global markets and protecting vital resources, such as oil and raw materials, were essential considerations for U.S. policymakers.

3. Escalation of Axis Aggression

In the 1930s many Americans did not want to become ensnared in a bloody war for the sake of distant China, or in what some Americans saw as war to perpetuate the British empire. They believed that the ‘European War’ would be a long drawn-out and protracted conflict, in which the Allies — with larger populations than Germany and global resources — would eventually gain the upper hand.

However, the rapid expansion of Axis powers, particularly the unexpected victories by Nazi Germany in Europe, highlighted the imminent threat posed by fascist aggression. The Third Reich took control of western and central Europe; Mussolini’s Italy opened a new front against Britain in the Mediterranean. The fall of France and the prospect of a German-dominated Europe raised concerns about the survival of democratic values and international stability. Now it seemed that unless help was provided America might have to deal on its own with a German-dominated Europe.

4. Strategic Considerations:

The strategic implications of Axis expansion, including access to vital resources underscored the interconnectedness of global events and the potential repercussions for American interests. In particular, the resource-rich Southeast Asian colonies of France and the Netherlands were suddenly open to control or occupation by outsiders. Even the British colonies would be under threat if the empire’s military resources had to be concentrated in Europe and the Mediterranean.

5. Japanese Expansion in Asia:

Japan’s military expansion in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, culminating in the invasion of French Indochina, directly threatened American interests in the region. Economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure failed to deter Japanese aggression, prompting a re-evaluation of America’s neutrality stance. To deter Japan from occupying more Asian territory or entering the war on Germany’s side, Washington made use of powerful economic sanctions. In July 1941 the Japanese moved military forces into southern Indochina, and in response Washington froze Japanese assets and, along with the British and Dutch, cut off oil exports to Japan.

6. Pearl Harbour Attack

Ultimately, the attack on Pearl Harbor served as a decisive turning point, galvanizing public opinion and compelling the United States to enter World War II. The Pearl Harbor raid was very successful for Japan in a military sense. Politically it was idiotic; it was mounted without a declaration of war, in the middle of negotiations, on a Sunday morning, on US territory, with heavy American loss of life.

Conclusion

Despite initial reluctance and opposition, the changing global landscape and the imperative to defend democratic principles and national security interests made American entry into the war increasingly inevitable. While the specific timing and circumstances of entry may have been influenced by contingent events such as Pearl Harbor, the underlying factors that ultimately drew the U.S. into the conflict, such as the expansionist ambitions of the Axis powers and the ideological clash between democracy and fascism, suggest that American involvement, in some form, was likely unavoidable given the global scale and nature of the conflict. Additionally, the gradual shift in public opinion towards interventionism and the growing recognition of the threat posed by the Axis powers further contributed to the inevitability of American entry into World War II.

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