world war ii


Should America Intervene?

“This nation will remain a neutral nation, but I cannot ask that every American remain neutral in thought as well…Even a neutral cannot be asked to close his mind or his conscience." 

- Franklin Roosevelt, radio address, September 3, 1939

When war erupted, Americans were divided about how to respond. They sympathized with the victims of aggression. But, remembering the horrors of World War I, most wanted to stay out of the conflict. Isolationists argued America should look to its own defenses rather than aid other nations. And neutrality laws passed by Congress during the 1930s prohibited American arms sales to warring nations. The country’s military was also woefully unprepared. All these factors placed limits on FDR’s ability to act.

In the dark months that followed, Roosevelt demonstrated his belief that America’s security depended on the defeat of the Axis Powers. His actions sparked a great national debate. Should the United States remain wholly neutral? Or should it find ways short of war to assist nations resisting Hitler?

The Reluctant Neutral

When World War II erupted in 1939, most Americans felt their nation could safely remain isolated from foreign troubles. But FDR recognized the grave danger the Axis Powers posed to American security. For two years, he pursued a cautious but deliberate policy of aiding Great Britain and, later, the Soviet Union in their war with Germany and Italy.

At every step, the President had to contend with deep-seated American fears about involvement in the war. He also had to manage a growing crisis in the Pacific, where Japan was expanding its empire into China and threatening Southeast Asia.

“It is easy for you and for me to shrug our shoulders and to say that conflicts taking place thousands of miles from the continental United States … do not seriously affect the Americas—and that all the United States has to do is to ignore them… . Passionately though we may desire detachment, we are forced to realize that … every battle that is fought, does affect the American future.”

- Franklin Roosevelt, Fireside Chat, September 3, 1939

This is the Antonov A-40 Krylya Tanka. It was an experimental Soviet project that involved strapping biplane wings and a tail to a small tank. The contraption would be towed into the air by airplane, then dropped to glide onto a battlefield. The idea was the tanks could re-supply Soviet ground troops who had lost their tanks or who needed additional support. The Antonov A-40 Krylya Tanka was tested in 1942 but (unsurprisingly) found to be unworkable.

Japanese Chart of Pearl Harbor Captured from Japanese Sub

Series: General Photographic File of the Department of Navy, 1943 - 1958
Record Group 80: General Records of the Department of the Navy, 1804 - 1983

Follow the National Archives this week, including our accounts at @usnatarchives, @fdrlibrary, @preservearchives, @congressarchives@riversidearchives, and @ourpresidents, as we commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor with images, stories, and documents from our holdings.

Explore more resources and events on the 75th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor from the National Archives »

Cheer Up Post #4421 - Black Soldiers Edition

American history.

Black Excellence

***Disclaimer: Most of the images used do not belong to me. If you see one that’s yours, and you would like credit or to have it removed/replaced, please just ask.

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How did Pearl Harbor Impact the Personal Lives of Presidents?

Gerald Ford received his law degree from Yale Law School in 1941. Returning to Grand Rapids, he started a law practice, but the attack on Pearl Harbor changed his plans. Instead of waiting for the draft, twenty nine-year-old Ford wanted to join the Navy. 

Ford applied to Naval Intelligence on December 13, 1941, six days after the attack. In February 1942, he applied for the Naval Reserve. With his background as a coach and trainer, he was a good candidate for instructor in the Navy’s V-5 (aviation cadet) program. 

Ford was commissioned as ensign in the U.S. Naval Reserve on April 13, 1942 and reported for active duty to the V-5 instructor school. He then went to Navy Preflight School where he taught elementary seamanship, ordnance, gunnery, first aid, military drill, and coached sports, mostly in swimming, boxing and football. Ford was promoted to Lieutenant Junior Grade in June 1942 then to Lieutenant, March 1943. 

Applying for sea duty, Ford was sent in May 1943 to a new light aircraft carrier, the USS Monterey (CVL-26). Ford served as the assistant navigator, athletic director, and antiaircraft battery officer. 

The USS Monterey took part in most of the major operations in the South Pacific, including Truk, Saipan, and the Philippines. Ford’s closest call with death came not as a result of enemy fire, however, but during a vicious typhoon in the Philippine Sea in December 1944. He came within inches of being swept overboard while the storm raged. The ship, which was severely damaged by the storm and the resulting fire, had to be taken out of service. Ford spent the remainder of the war ashore and was discharged as a lieutenant commander in February 1946. 

Gerald Ford earned the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with nine engagement stars. He also received the Philippine Liberation with two bronze stars, as well as the American Campaign and World War II Victory Medals.

Ford remained in the Naval Reserve until June 1963. 

-From the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum and the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum.  

Learn more at the “Pearl Harbor Remembered” exhibit at the Bush Library, College Station, Texas, created in collaboration with nine Presidential Libraries and Museums. Through January 1, 2017.

Image: Gerald R. Ford, Jr. in his United States Navy Lieutenant Commander’s uniform, 1945.


Soldiers of the Das Reich Division trying to get a 3.7cm PaK 36 out of the mud during the advance towards Belgrade, Yugoslavia in April 1941. The Division’s line of advance was over very marshy terrain, and it had difficulty in making progress in adverse weather conditions. The motorcycle reconnaissance unit of the Division, however, under SS-Hauptsturmführer Fritz Klingenberg, found that its light vehicles could make good headway by travelling along railway tracks and embankments, and it took off at speed towards Belgrade while the remainder of the Division laboured in the mud.


Private Snafu is the title character of a series of black-and-white American instructional cartoon shorts, ironic and humorous in tone, that were produced between 1943 and 1945 during World War II. The cartoons focus on the adventures of Private Snafu (situation normal, all fouled up).

It’s a common story – lots of women enter the workforce during World War II, doing all the jobs normally restricted only to men, before millions had to go off to fight Fascism. Then the war was won, the soldiers came back, the women were forced back out.

But, at least, it was acknowledged, and, at least, some credit was given.

But not at Gibson Guitar. They officially say that they shipped no instruments during World War II at all – not a one. But that’s simply not true. They did – they made and shipped thousands of instruments, with a wartime workforce of women. Some even went with GIs overseas.

Apparently, management decided that people wouldn’t want instruments made by women, so they erased the Kalamazoo Gals from history. When law professor and music journalist John Thomas got a hint there had actually been wartime production, and found out the story, the acoustic department was initially very interested – and then corporate found out he had been digging, and started threatening him for revealing it. It’s fascinating:

Women guitar makers scratched from Gibson history
By Ryan Grimes

Women are constantly being erased from history, including music history. Sometimes more aggressively than others. Never forget that.

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