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tv   H.W. Brands on U.S. Entry into World War II  CSPAN  February 18, 2019 8:33am-9:20am EST

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to the 19th century, they became almost aggressively isolationists. don't tell us what's going on in those other countries. as bad as it might get there, that's a reason to reconsider. that's confirmation of the fact that we were right not to have anything to do with the
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subconscious because there always getting into trouble and it is, as europe and east asia begin to move to war in 19 thirds, americans, not all of them, but a working majority patted themselves on the back four, first of all, having fled europe, those he came to america from europe, having fled europe and getting out of that place that always seems to be going to war. also had the good sense not to join the league of nations. americans were quite happy to say this is not our problem. one of those who argued that, well, you're wrong, it is our problem, or it will be, was franklin roosevelt. that kid was born in 1882, who came of age at the beginning of the 20 century, who was paying attention to the fact that the united states at this growing economy, that the united states at these interest that were spreading around the world, who was in woodrow wilson's cabinet
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as assistant secretary of the navy during the time of the first world war, and you came away from that were believing that the united states needed to play a continuing role in world affairs, that the united states, american democracy would not be safe and less the united states a detention. that world war i was just the start of that stuff and more bad stuff would occur if the united states turn its back. but franklin roosevelt was a politician with ambition. he could say the wind was -- he could see the way the wind was blowing. it was blowing in an isolationist direction in the 1920s and 1930s. police violence is internationalist views, kept them to himself, and went about his business. he got distracted, diverted by contracting polio in the 1920s, and then along came the great depression.
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and the great depression focus americans mind stephen moore on american affairs and not on the affairs of the world. to americans it looked as though the great depression something that they needed to deal with on their own. franklin roosevelt's became president in 1933. 1933. by this time it was clear to everybody that the united states have the most powerful economy in the world, and if the world was going to get out of this almost global depression, the united states was going to have to play a key role in cooperation among nations. franklin roosevelt's said no, we're not going to do that. what franklin roosevelt's said to borrow from a slogan that would come into use some years later, he said america first. this is something that we need to do. we need to focus on what's going on in this country. america has trading partners,
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america's potential allies, allies from world war i, say this is a terrible thing. that roosevelt, the president, is making it impossible for the world to dig its way out of this depression. but roosevelt believed that it was necessary. he believed it was politically necessary, and rose up was a political animal. he it was political necessary to address america's problems at home first. and so was launched the new deal, and the new deal was this attempt to revive the american economy, to put a safety net under those people who were suffering most acutely during the depression, to try to prevent the recurrence of something like the depression. but roosevelt initially tried to do this on an almost exclusive american basis.
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the first couple of years of the new deal were relatively successful, not exactly in reviving the economy, although the economy did improve from 1933. roosevelt rescued the banking system. and in a series of measures passed, in the first three months of his first term, which came to be called the 100 days, he sent 15 major bills to congress and congress passed and all basically just rubberstamp. some of them were passed without even having been read. it looked as though things were improving. what was and probably more than anything was the attitude of americans, the attitude, the belief that somebody in washington cares about me. now, keep this in mind because this is an important element in what's going to happen in world war ii and why world war ii was called the good war.
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i should point out here that benjamin franklin once said, this is at the end of the revolutionary war, when he was america's chief diplomat affairs, benjamin frankel said that the never was a good war or a bad piece. franklin was one to recognize that almost as that sp can get, it's better than the best of war nonetheless, we have this this idea of a good war. so franklin roosevelt is president. the new deal is coming along. things seem to be improving. americans attitude is improving their contract faster than the economy is improving. and americans who thought that under republican strength in 1920s and 1930s who were left to their own devices believed the somebody was looking out for them. here i will digress very briefly to lay out for you what i consider to be the two fairly opposing principles of human
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organization. every society is to figure out how individuals relate to the larger group, and there are two competing principles. they compete in different countries. they compete within the train and other countries at different times. once principa principle is a prf individualism and it can be summarized by it is every man for himself. this is the principle that americans have very often sort of pride themselves on having, because in the united states there is the great honor and respect paid to the individual, the person who made himself or his days herself, the self-made man. and the idea that we're rugged individuals. on the one hand, we have the principle of it's every man for himself. there are times and places where this is appropriate and perhaps most productive. the other principle is, you could call it the humanitarian principle which says we're all in this together. and this attitude of we are all in this together usually gains
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purchase in times when there is some sort of collective challenge, a challenge to the nation as a whole. if something bad happens everybody then we're all in this together. this was thinking underline the new deal and what came to be called the american welfare state. social security, social security was a response to the arbitrary, capricious nature of the great depression. and the fact that people would work all their lies come then everything they're supposed to do, worked and saved and prepared for retirement, they could lose everything when the bank collapsed. they could lose anything by the with healthcare. they could just be utterly lost
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as result, and this is the key, of something that was beyond their control. and this just happened to them. and so they could use that helping hand. there was this idea in this depression that in some ways we are all in this together. now, when i say we are all in mystic together, the new deal was popular, quite popular. franklin roosevelt was reelected in 1936 in one of the largest landslides in american political history. but what does that mean? it meant that 61% of voters voted for him, and in american politics that qualifies as a landslide. but it also means 39% voted against him. so if when i say in the 1930s there was this embrace of this ideal, it was a universal embrace and keep this in mind because it will never go away. anyway, roosevelt is reelected
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and he launches the second you deal at the beginning of the second term. and in his, well, you could say in his ambition, maybe you could say in his hubris, he decides that because the supreme court has ruled against him on medical duty legislation come he's going to change the composition of the supreme court. the so-called court packing scheme was launched, and even many of his strongest supporters said this time you've gone too far. that was the beginning of the end of the new deal. and franklin roosevelt understood that maybe he had pushed things too far. franklin roosevelt understood, a number of people identified george washington as one of the greatest the president. i said those are the because he was the first. you want to know the most important thing that george washington did as a president?
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he quit after two terms. because there is nothing in the constitution -- excuse nay there was nothing in the constitution that said you couldn't have a president for life, that in effect the president morsi could become like the papacy. you get elected and then you serve until you die. ..
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because, well, there's the two-term rule and franklin roosevelt had by this time cast some doubt among his supporters but he alienated southern democrats, most of them who had looked at new deal with great suspicion from the start and then in 1938 election season.
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roosevelt campaigned against conservative democrats and this was violating all the rules. so they basically defected from the new deal. franklin roosevelt, mediocre president, could not accomplish what above all americans wanted him to do, pull the country, there's a lot happening, it was clear that the war was coming. the war really started in asia first when japan invaded china and occupied north eastern providence of china.
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americans looked at upsetting to have status quo with concern but also with remembrance that the pacific ocean is 18,000 miles wide, real, what did anybody care in the united states about what was going on with china? we will ignore thanked have stuff to worry about it. franklin roosevelt tried to nudge americans to pay attention to what was going on in china. in 1937, he gave a speech in chicago in which he likened the appropriate response to aggression in east asia. to what civilized advanced countries do when there's outbreak of infectious disease. he didn't say we will send troops into china, he didn't say
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we were going to impose embargo against japan, uttered word we will try to quarantine the aggression. but the backlash against even this among isolation was that roosevelt backed off. roosevelt could be taken to task and was taken to task for not taking north
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that we washed our hands with europe, last time we were stupid enough to think that we could resolve their problems, this time we will steer clear and roosevelt, roosevelt reckoned that the united states will not be able to steer clear but he also understood that he had an unprecedented opportunity to do something that no american president had ever done and that was get elected a third time. it was going to violate the day
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facto george washington limit of two-term but there seemed to be circumstances, the world was going to war and, in fact, germany made it explicitly and formal in 1939 by invading poland and seems like the world is in flames and roosevelt begins to float the idea that, okay, maybe i should run for a third term. there was the expected criticism, you can't have a third term, george washington didn't have a third term, do you think you're better than george washington? and roosevelt didn't answer explicitly in those terms but the slogan that went out, was, better third term than a third grader as to who the opposition
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might be and the republicans had nobody of sort of compelling stature and international affairs in part because republicans had been the party -- i should blame it entirely on the party. the republicans, nobody had any international stature in the united states because of the fact that the united states has been isolationist for two decades. president roosevelt was the one who was most credible in dealing with this world crisis and so while he ran for president a third time, he was elected and all of a sudden roosevelt sees opportunity not simply to become a third president, to become a great president, a president in the mold of abraham lincoln because roosevelt before almost anybody else in the united states in a position of responsibility or authority understood that the united states was going to have to fight in this war.
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roosevelt recognized something about adolf hitler that a lot of other people didn't or wouldn't acknowledge and that was hitler and hitler's regime required war for its legitimacy and hitler talked about -- by the time roosevelt was elected hitler hadn't crossed zone yet but he was going to. hitler had not -- he had talked about -- threw to the idea negotiated peace with britain but by this time winston churchill was prime minister of britain and churchill recognized something with hitler that roosevelt saw. the nature of nazi regime that whoever is left standing, the nazis will come after. many american led -- now we have
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a group explicitly called the america first group led by charles berg and others, we will deal with hitler when the time comes and we will fight in our terms and our shore. roosevelt recognized that that's not going to work, far better to fight the war far away than home turf. so roosevelt leads -- no, no, he doesn't lead the united states into the world war ii, he let's the american people beat him into world war ii, roosevelt saw that the problem that woodrow wilson faced at end of world war i that americans had not been convinced going into the war that the war was really necessary. wilson took the lead in taking the united states and so the things that tush -- turn out, americans can turn against
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wilson and say this is mr. wilson's war, this isn't america's war. roosevelt had been watching. the wilson administration and he took mental note and roosevelt by this time was thinking i could be president, okay, and this is how i'm going to do if i'm president. i'm going to lag behind the american people and i'm going let the american people drag me into the war. now, roosevelt caused winston churchill, prime minister to have the united kingdom to agonize on whether the americans were ever going to come to the rescue of democracy. churchill would let out ideas that maybe, maybe if britain is force today surrender then the royal fleet will be captured by nazis and the americans will be at risk and you really better do something, mr. president, and roosevelt was able to do a few things to get -- to help britain
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stay afloat but he refused to act in a decisive way until the war came to america and the war came to america in december 1941 and december 7th, 1941 and in the two hours it took, the japanese dive bombers to raid pearl harbor, the isolationist position in the united states was utterly discredited and it was discredited for 70 years or more. world war ii to americans was known as the good war because it was a war that was -- that had to be fought, it wasn't a discretionary war, it wasn't a war of choice, we had to fight because we were attacked and furthermore as the war developed and as the nature of the nazi regime became clear, the clearest example in american history of a war of good against
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evil. most wars and i have to say, it was the clearest example, it wasn't a perfectly clear example because the united states fought against the nazi regime and fought against the japanese militarist, but who was america's principal ally, well, the british, we will put them on the side of good, who was the ally who did the most fighting and dying, the soviet union, and you could get a spirited rather debate as to who was the greatest monster, was it hitler or stalin, who was another ally, china. united states fought world war ii not to make safer democracy. americans remember the crusading spirit of world war i and they
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weren't going to fall for that again. but ironically rather than -- not rather than maybe safer democracy, they also made the world safe from communism. democracy faced off against fascism in world war ii and democracy beat fascism but on the side of democracy was communism and communism got a new lease on life in world war ii and americans discovered after the war that, okay, we beat the fascists but now we have to deal with the communists. i said earlier that there was a phase that begun, a period of american history to which first of all, sooner or later you get foreign policy you can understand.
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ambitious foreign policy in the world. probably in world history, we can shape the world to our predilection. here is how we will do it, we are going to eliminate and take the problems that gave rise to world war ii, the problems, countries being outlaw as one of the other. the period that starts in 1941 and lasts until 2017 were based on the twin pillars of free trade, the trade wars of the 1930 and collective security, this is the idea that the united states is isolation and should remain isolation, every president of the united states from franklin roosevelt through barack obama agreed wholeheartedly with the two principles, free trade, this makes countries of the world think of what they have in common, how they can do business based on the principle that
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where goods cross borders soldiers don't have to and it has been -- i'm going say it has been because it's still is in effect, it has been enormously successful in keeping the world at peace. one of the questions i pose today my students is, there was world war i and there was world war ii, why not world war iii and usually some bright student say, well, why no world war iii yet? and the answer is that's exactly right. the answer why no world war iii yet? fact because the pillar one which is free trade, make each country, every other country's customers and the second pillar collective security. make it clear to the world that if there's aggressor out there you're taking on not simply poland and we will start after
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you. the period that ushered the most profound period of peace in modern history, one can say world history and it's been characterized most importantly by the striking absent of world war iii, another great war. people have come up with reasons why there hasn't been world war iii, it's because of the existence of nuclear weapons that certainly has something to do with it, the united states, the most powerful country has taken this leadership position, the united states has been behind free trade, has been behind collective security and peace doesn't just happen, peace isn't simply of war, it has to be constructed, it has to be cultivated and every american president from franklin roosevelt through barack obama did that. the reason i said january 2017
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is that the current president has challenged both of those basis of the long peace. world war iii is not broken out yet and with president trump it's unclear how much of what he says is something that he actually intends to follow through on so i can't say that this -- that the period of world 2, i'm going to call the era of world war ii which lasts 1941 until almost now, i won't say it's over yet. i will say that it is under a thread, that it hasn't been under during the whole period and i would say this is that we need to pay attention to, once again, it's not impossible that the world could revert to the way it looked in 1920's and 1930's, we know how that period ended and we need to hope and make sure that we don't come to a similar bad ending in our era. thank you very much.
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