Democracies and the Second World War
But the greatest success of the American peace movement came with the adoption of the ‘Neutrality Act’ of August 31,1935, as amended in 1936 and 1937. ey introduced a general embargo on trading in arms and war materials with all belligerent parties in a war, while the 1937 Act extended the embargo to loans and credits to belligerents. Aer the Spanish Civil War ( July 1936 to April 1939) the act was amended to prohibit shipments and loans to parties in a civil
war. American President Roosevelt had opposed the ‘Neutrality Act’ because it would limit the American government’s ability to aid the United Kingdom in case of Nazi aggression and it allowed no distinction between aggressors and victims. Roosevelt succeeded to see approved a provision in the 1937 Act that allowed him to permit the sale of war supplies to belligerents in Europe as long as the buyers arranged for transport and paid immediately in cash, the ‘cash and carry’ provision3. Since the British and French eets controlled the high seas, this meant that shipments to both countries could take place while the British and French eets were able to set up a naval blockade against Germany. And during the Sino-Japanese War, which started in 1937, President Roosevelt allowed British ships to buy and transport military equipment for China. e American ‘Neutrality Act’ ended with the ‘Land-Lease Act’ of March 1941 which allowed American supplies to allied nations only. Experience with the ‘Neutrality Act’ proves that well known international legal terms such as ‘war’ or ‘embargo’ or ‘belligerents’ were unmanageable and unhelpful in order to determine the political objective of supporting democracies against totalitarian regimes since they were not suited to help evaluate and determine the political aspects of war and democracy. If used indiscriminately and without any connection to basic principles of democratic governance, international legal terms automatically equate all belligerents from a moral, legal and political perspective. is is unrealistic and even undesirable in foreign policy matters of the highest importance when allied states of the same political regime are under threat. Even American democracy, with its vast resources, organizational skills and manpower, is unable to handle successfully a world-wide war without democratic allies. e military and political need for democratic allies was recognized by the US Department of State’s publication Peace and War: United States Foreign Policy, 1931-1941 of 1943 (p. 2):
Roosevelt’s administration was aware of this danger, but had to act within the limits set by American Congress and its laws. Although some historians have criticized Roosevelt for not having taken the lead more aggressively during an
international crisis, it were American voters who failed the test since political leaders of democracies can only go as far as voters want their leaders to go4. However, it is a fact that Congress acted swily once war became a serious danger to American national security. In such circumstances Administration and Congress were willing to pass whatever act necessary to deploy American resources and troops. e ‘Land-Lease Act’ of March 11, 1941 was adopted 18 months aer the outbreak of the Second World War in Europe and nine months before the Pearl Harbor attack. It ended the ‘Neutrality Act’ and allowed shipment of military equipment to the allied forces, including Soviet/Bolshevik Russia. e inuence of public opinion on US foreign policy, in particular its desire for neutrality and keeping the United States out of any war, was acknowledged in the foreword of Peace and War: United States Foreign Policy, 1931-1941. e report stated that the US government in the 1930s had much diculty in convincing public opinion that events in Europe and the Far East could have a dangerous impact on US security:
1.3 Totalitarian mass movements are secular
e totalitarian ideologies of the Second World War were deeply secular, especially in Europe. Mass movements under the direction of one party rejected religion and created a new kind of ideology based on mythical fantasies, inherent superiority and the necessity of a complete annihilation of all political opponents. e Marxist-Leninist propaganda booklets in Bolshevik Russia were vehemently opposed to the Russian Orthodox Church or any other religion. Jews did not t in a secular world view and therefore distrust against Jews was fuelled by the communist party bosses. e Marxist view proclaimed itself to be
founded on the basis of science and the instrument to lead the state was the inner circle of communist top bureaucrats5. Nazi Germany produced Hitler’s Mein Kampf as an ersatz or replacement ideology, rejecting any notion of religion. Peter Philips aptly described a general anti-religious mood in Germany. Racist fantasies were promoted on mythical grounds, referring to a distinct and dark past of heroes and conquests6. Racist purity was central to Nazi ideology and was used in the rst place against Jews, but also against gypsies, homosexuals and other undesired minorities. Fascist Italy was ideologically motivated by the glorious Roman pagan past, and the traditional inuence of the Catholic Church was curtailed and ridiculed in several tracts7. In China the Maoist-communist ideology was a variant of the communist ideology and emerged during the Second World War. Its program was deeply secular and the Chinese communist party wanted to ban or strictly control any religious aliations8. Many Chinese and Asian intellectuals, for example in Viet Nam, were educated in Europe or at least inuenced by European writings. European secularism would easily nd its way in the totalitarian ideologies outside Europe, inuencing not only the Second World War but also the subsequent Cold War.