Eighty years ago this week, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt reaffirmed that the United States would remain neutral in the escalating conflict on the European continent — a pronouncement that would become null and void a little more than two years later with the attack on Pearl Harbor.
On Sept. 1, 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland, officially initiating World War II in Europe. Two days later, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany. However, the United States would not follow suit.
From 1935 to 1939, Congress passed five different Neutrality Acts forbidding American involvement in foreign conflicts. The acts had been passed because of a growing peace movement in the country along with recent revelations of illegal profiteering during World War I and a feeling that America's involvement in the Great War was pointless.
Many isolationists felt Americans should direct its attention and resources toward continued recovery from The Great Depression. Even though Roosevelt didn't necessarily believe in neutrality, he wasn't ready to buck the isolationist trend and made the neutrality declaration on Sept. 3, 1939.
"I have said not once but many times that I have seen war and that I hate war. I say that again and again. I hope the United States will keep out of this war. I believe that it will. And I give you assurance(s) and reassurance that every effort of your Government will be directed toward that end," he said.
But even though Roosevelt went on the record stating America would stay out of WWII, he hinted that its citizens were free to choose their alliances.
"This nation will remain a neutral nation, but I cannot ask that every American remain neutral in thought as well. Even a neutral has a right to take account of facts. Even a neutral cannot be asked to close his mind or close his conscience," Roosevelt said.
Two years, three months and five days later on Dec. 8, 1941, the United States entered World War II one day after the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.