Study Guide

The Great Arsenal of Democracy Main Idea

By Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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  • Main Idea

    When FDR gave "Great Arsenal of Democracy" speech, he'd just been reelected by a lot of people, so he knew U.S. citizens wanted him to stick around.

    And ol' Franky D. decided to use that to his advantage.

    He was very aware of the fighting over in Europe (you know, that whole World War II thing), and he understood the importance of getting the American people involved in the fighting in some way. Physically sending troops overseas wasn't the best option—especially considering he'd won the election by promising to keep Americans out of foreign wars.

    Instead, FDR focused his policy on mobilizing U.S. industry to produce the weapons and supplies the Allies needed to defeat the Nazis in Europe.

    Questions About Main Idea

    1. What was the status of American isolationist policy at this point in history? How had it evolved from the Monroe Doctrine in 1823 to what FDR was proposing in 1940?
    2. We know the U.S. eventually did deploy American military overseas in December 1941. Do you think the U.S. would've eventually entered the war if Pearl Harbor hadn't been attacked? Why or why not?
    3. What were the major ideological differences between America and the other Allies?
    4. According to FDR, what was "the great arsenal of democracy?"

    Chew on This

    Despite his assurances that the U.S. government had no intention of sending American troops overseas, FDR had likely always intended for the military to play an important role in winning World War II.

    FDR would often speak to the American people over the radio. The intimacy of these Fireside Chats enabled him to get support for a number of wartime initiatives, including the plans he outlined in this speech.

  • Brief Summary

    The Set-Up

    Ron Swanson believed that the less he knew about other people's issues, the happier things are.

    But as much as we love Mr. Swanson, U.S. citizens couldn't just ignore what was happening in Europe (*cough* WWII *cough*). So FDR found a compromise: the best way to help wasn't to send troops overseas, but to mobilize American industry to produce the weapons and supplies the Allies needed to win.

    The Text

    FDR was a fan of Fireside Chats. And we're not talking literally: Franky D. wasn't eating s'mores and telling ghost stories, he was talking to the people of America via that newfangled device, the radio.

    So, when he gave his "Great Arsenal of Democracy" speech over the radio, he knew lots of people would tune in. (In general, people loved FDR.)

    FDR spent the entire first half talking about all the bad things the Axis were doing to U.S. allies, not because he enjoys spreading bad news in dulcet tones, but because he had to convince the American people to care about the war. If it was bad for U.S. allies, it was bad for America, and he'd keep saying it 'til everyone believed it.

    As far as he was concerned, the American people had two choices: they could wait for the Axis to attack, or they could be proactive and start preparing to defend themselves. During the second half of his speech, FDR advocated for being proactive—producing weapons, sending supplies overseas, and rebuilding military reserves to bolster U.S. defenses on the homefront.

    And there wasn't any time to waste. Hitler wasn't going to play fair.


    "Of course the war is happening across the world, Harry and all Americans," said Franklin Dumbledore Roosevelt, "but why on earth should that mean that it is not a real threat and we shouldn't make lots of guns and tanks to protect everyone?"

    Sounds about right—we think J.K. Rowling would appreciate our rewrite.

  • Questions

    1. In line 11, FDR says, "Never before since Jamestown and Plymouth Rock has our American civilization been in such danger as now." What is the significance of Jamestown and Plymouth Rock? Rhetorically speaking, what was FDR trying to accomplish by mentioning those places?
    2. What are the biggest differences between dictatorships and democracies? Do you think it would've been possible for the two governments to exist together peacefully? Why or why not?
    3. Throughout the speech, FDR rarely mentions Japan, or the conflict in the Pacific. Why do you think that is?
    4. In line 133, FDR says, "And it is no more un-neutral for us to [send munitions to our allies] than it is for Sweden, Russia, and other nations near Germany to send steel and ore and oil and other war materials into Germany every day of the week." Do you agree that the U.S. could remain neutral, even while supplying the Allies with weapons? Do you think the Axis saw it that way?
    5. How did FDR's plan to transform America into "the great arsenal of democracy" alter the way the United States deals with conflicts around the world? Do you believe it was a positive change or a negative change?

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