Isolationism and Lend-Lease
Strong isolationist sentiment ran deep throughout the United States post World War I and grew during the 1930s. The America First Committee, a leading isolationist organization, held rallies often featuring Charles Lindberg and were regular guests on national radio shows. Additionally, Congress enacted several Neutrality Acts during the 1930s barring or limiting arms trade with warring nations. Even the rise of Hitler’s Nazism in Germany and Japan’s expansionism in the Pacific did little to quell the isolationists.
Against this backdrop Lend-Lease was not a foregone conclusion. The Neutrality Act of 1935 strict bans were lessened in follow on acts. However, they were still an obstacle of providing support to potential future allies on a scale President Roosevelt thought necessary. Isolationist sentiments started shifting with Germany’s Polish invasion, but it still took over a full year before more than 50% of Americans believed we should fight against the Axis powers.
The 77th US Congress on March 8, 1941, passed the Lend-Lease act (subtitled “An Act to Promote the Defense of the United States”) which President Roosevelt signed into law on March 11, 1941. The first beneficiary was Great Britain and her Commonwealth of nations. Lend-Lease was later extended to China in the spring of 1941 and to the Soviet Union in November 1941. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, fully ended isolation discussion in America. Lend-Lease allowed the United States to lend or lease war supplies to any nation deemed “vital to the defense of the United States.”
Complicating Lend-Lease was the need to further develop an undersized US Army. The US Navy of 1940 could stand toe to toe with any nation. Conversely, the US Army ranked seventeenth, just after Romania, with 190,000 personnel worldwide. On top of this the US Army’s equipment was either obsolete World War I leftovers or nonexistent. The strategy developed during American British Conversations and aligned with President Roosevelt’s policy was to aid nations already engaged with Axis powers first.
Lend-Lease exports in 1941 were mainly food and industrial goods destined for England. By 1943 a billion dollars per month of guns, tanks, planes, trucks, jeeps, gasoline, food, and more were being provided to allied nations. In the first six months of 1944 the dollar figure rose to 1.5 billion a month. By the end of the war about 15% of the US total war budget went to Lend-Lease.
US Lend-Lease Dollar Value by Recipient Nation Data
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Source: Real History Online. “Lend-Lease WW2 – American Supply to the Allies.” https://www.realhistoryonline.com/articles/lendlease-ww2/, Data accessed on June 28, 2022
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