FDR’s policy towards Hitler in the 1930s
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The people of the United States were living in the sunshine of health and welfare during the Roaring Twenties. Life was made much more comfortable for the American people by new products of science and technology and belief in material progress was nurtured. Herbert Hoover, the Republican candidate for the presidency in 1928, declared in his acceptance speech; “We in America today, are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before in the history of any land.” He became president in 1929. The Great Crash brought the bull market in Wall Street to an abrupt close and Hoover’s dream of a golden destiny for the American people turned into a nightmare of global depression. Amid the acute economic deterioration during the winter of 1932-1933, the nation had to wait four months before Franklin Delano Roosevelt could take office and inaugurate his promised program to combat the depression. “The somewhat encouraging signs of the summer had vanished with the autumn leaves, and the American people had to endure rising unemployment, falling business index figures and farm prices dropping to catastrophic levels.” By necessity, most of Roosevelt’s efforts would be devoted to domestic policies and issues. His New Deal program for economic recovery was very controversial from the outset, forcing him to defend his legislation from attacks by conservatives and the Supreme Court. In 1935, as a response to these pressures, he launched the so-called Second New Deal of reforms and campaigned for reelection in 1936. Roosevelt had an abiding interest in international events, he had served under Wilson as assistant secretary of the navy during World War I , but his attention during his first years in office was focused on the home front. Throughout the industrial nations of the world, economic conditions were desperate, from Japan, resorting to imperialist ventures on the Asiatic mainland, to Germany, where Adolf Hitler became Reichskanzler in January 1933. Some observers doubted not only whether the American economic system could survive, but even whether democratic institutions could weather the economic storm. After Hitler dissolved the Reichstag and called for new elections, the famous Reichstag fire occurred on February 27th. The next day Hindenburg signed a decree that curtailed civil liberties and gave Hitler a pretext to suppress all political opposition. In March the Enabling Law made sure that legislative power was turned over to the cabinet and gave Hitler the authority to carry out his larger designs. To many people, Germans as well as alert foreigners, when Hitler was appointed chancellor something new, dangerous and sinister seemed to have happened. “Many others however, assumed that Hitler and the party he headed amounted to no more than just another transient presence in the kaleidoscope of German politics.” Hitler had ostentatiously rejected an armed seizure of power, been appointed to office by legitimate means, and was given only two relatively powerless Cabinet positions for his party. Hitler himself and the movement he headed possessed a will and dynamism beyond a lot of people’s comprehension. He never made a secret of his ambitions and thoughts. From the publication of Mein Kampf in 1925, his National Socialist political ideology became clear. He saw war as the ultimate human endeavor, he publicly showed his hatred of the Jews or non-Germanic peoples and never concealed his intention of becoming an absolute dictator. How did Americans respond to this new threat, and FDR specifically? Roosevelt, like many Americans, was initially bewildered and bemused by what was going on in Europe, “by the pace of change, the periodic crises, and the overall direction of events.” Roosevelt himself stated that; “Things are moving so fast, that I feel my opinion of the situation today may be completely changed tomorrow.” This uncertainty slowly started to evaporate as the decade progressed. In my thesis I want to write on Roosevelt and his response to the emergence of Hitler and Nazism in the 1930s. Did he underestimate the power of the Nazis, did he really know what was going on and what was his exact policy? The main point I will focus on will be the policy he conducted in the period between 1936 and 1939, the period of the so-called ‘appeasement’. Can you label his actions as part of a policy of appeasement or should it be labeled isolationism, or was his policy a combination of the two. What was his appeasement policy and did it work or were Roosevelt and the Allies trying to appease a man, who already knew he was going to war?