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Growing U.S. Involvement, the Atlantic Charter, and the Arcadia Conference

  • Grades: 6–8, 9–12

From the beginning of the war in Europe, the sympathy of the American public was with the Allied cause; most Americans felt that a Nazi triumph would pose a grave threat to the United States. As German victory followed German victory, isolationist sentiment, originally strong, began to evaporate.

From 1935, U.S. neutrality acts had forbidden the selling of war supplies to belligerent countries. In November 1939 a revised neutrality law authorized the sale of war supplies on a cash-and-carry basis but forbade U.S. vessels and nationals from traveling in combat zones. This act was intended to prevent direct U.S. involvement in the war through the sinking of U.S. vessels, a problem that had spurred the nation's involvement in World War I. From the beginning of the war, however, the British dominated the seas; the cash-and-carry law thus had the effect of favoring the British cause.

The next year, President Roosevelt and the Congress began preparing for possible U.S. entry into the war. In September 1940 the first peacetime draft law in U.S. history provided for the registration of 17 million men. The Alien Registration Act of 1940 was aimed at curbing subversive activities. In March 1941, Congress passed the Lend-Lease Act, empowering the president to allow the shipment of vital war matériel to nations, primarily Great Britain, whose defense he considered to be necessary for U.S. security. Later that year the law was extended to include China and the USSR. The Americans also took measures to defend the Western Hemisphere by patrolling the Atlantic Ocean. American forces occupied Greenland and Iceland. In August and September 1941 the sinking of U.S.-owned ships led to a measure authorizing the arming of U.S. merchant vessels and permitting them to carry cargoes to belligerent ports.

The Atlantic Charter. On Aug. 14, 1941, President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill held a conference on a war vessel off the coast of Newfoundland. The two agreed to present plans for a new world based on an end to tyranny and territorial aggrandizement, the disarmament of aggressors, and the fullest cooperation of all nations for the social and economic welfare of all. The Atlantic Charter was designed as a counterthrust to a possible new Hitler peace offensive as well as a statement of postwar aims. The next month, the USSR and 14 other anti-Axis countries endorsed the Atlantic Charter.

On Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, provoking a U.S. declaration of war on Japan the following day. On December 11, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. The European war now merged with the Pacific war into one global conflict.

The Arcadia Conference. From Dec. 22, 1941, to Jan. 14, 1942, the first Anglo-American conference after U.S. entry into the war was held in Washington, D.C. President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Churchill, and their staffs of military and civilian advisors solemnly agreed to wage war against the Axis until victory. At this meeting, known as the Arcadia Conference, they also agreed to give first priority to the European theater of war; to forge a constricting ring around Germany by air attack and blockade; to stage an eventual invasion of the European continent; and to land their forces in North Africa. The two powers also decided to form a Combined Chiefs of Staff, paving the way for the closest military collaboration between two sovereign states in history.

During the conference 26 countries, including the United States, Britain, the USSR, and China, signed a United Nations Declaration. The signatories endorsed the Atlantic Charter, agreed to use all of their military and economic resources to defeat the Axis, and pledged not to make a separate armistice or peace with their common enemies.

  • Subjects:
    World War II
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