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1941

FDR proclaims an unlimited national emergency in response to Nazi threats

President Franklin D. Roosevelt announces a state of unlimited national emergency in response to Nazi Germany’s threats of world domination on this day in 1941. In a speech on this day, he repeated his famous remark from a speech he made in 1933 during the Great Depression: the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

In a radio address delivered from the White House, FDR tried to rally isolationists to his philosophy that aid to Europe was purely in America’s self-interest. In March 1941, he had successfully pushed through the Lend-Lease Bill, which gave military aid to any country vital to the defense of the United States. Roosevelt recounted for his audience how German submarines were boldly attacking British shipping and threatening American shipping in the Atlantic and how Londoners endured nightly raids of German bombers. He painted an almost apocalyptic vision of a Nazi-controlled Western Hemisphere where American workers would be enslaved by Germany, godless Nazis would outlaw freedom of worship and America’s children would wander off, goose-stepping in search of new gods.

Roosevelt also took pains to define what he meant by America being attacked. He insisted that an attack on the United States can begin with the domination of any base which menaces our security, for instance Canada, Brazil or Trinidad, and not just when bombs actually drop in the streets of New York or San Francisco or New Orleans or Chicago. He appeared to be urging Americans to consider actively engaging in the war in Europe stating it would be suicide to wait until they are in our front yard.

FDR then laid out his administration’s policy with regard to the current war in Europe. Without committing troops, he promised the protection of shipping in the Atlantic, continued humanitarian and military aid to Britain, the establishment of a civilian defense and warned of saboteurs and fifth columnists (communist infiltrators) who threatened democracy in America and abroad. He also condemned war profiteering and urged organized labor to resist disruptive strikes in war-production industries.

Finally, FDR warned Germany that the U.S. was prepared to go to war in case of attack and pledged to strengthen America’s defense to the extreme limit of our national power and authority.

Just over seven months later, the United States entered World War II after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

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