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Britain begged for help. Congress resisted. Straight through the 1940 presidential election Republicans accused Roosevelt of plotting to entangle America in the war. Only after the election could he openly proclaim America the “arsenal of democracy.” And when he finally marshaled enough support to send mass quantities of arms and materiel to Britain through the Lend Lease program in March 1941, it was approved on a nearly straight party-line vote with most Republicans voting no.
If Roosevelt had had his way, America would have thrown its full weight behind Britain from the beginning, before Belgium and France fell, before there was a final solution or camps to bomb. But he did not have his way. It took the Japanese.
Why did America wait so long to join the war? Where were we in 1939? Most Americans don’t ask because they see no need. It was so long ago. When the war came to us we fought bravely, at enormous sacrifice, and Hitler was defeated. For most of us, that is enough.
Indeed, we recall with pride that without us, the war would have been lost — though that discounts the outsize role and sacrifice of our Soviet allies, who bore the brunt of the war.
And this is another thing we have forgotten: our alliance with the Soviet Union. Yes, their regime was repugnant, a kingdom of egalitarian idealism perverted into something twisted, of good intentions gone horribly wrong. But that was not the same thing as the Nazi regime of malignant intentions and utter evil. We joined forces to defeat Nazism, because there is no coexisting with evil. Afterwards we squared off against each other in a cold war of jousting and containment, because not every foe is pure evil and not every compromise is 1938. We used to understand that. We have forgotten that, too.
Those who must answer the question of 1939 are those who most insistently press the question of 1938. They like to claim that liberalism dulls the senses. They have it backwards.
Contact J.J. Goldberg at email@example.com.