Study Guide

The Lend-Lease Act Themes

By The United States Congress, signed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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  • Warfare

    Although the Lend-Lease Act strictly adheres to the technical definition of neutrality, everyone in positions of power around the world understood it as a highly charged act, tantamount to saying, "This means war."

    The unprecedented American industrial economy was about to be supercharged and transformed into, as FDR called it, "the arsenal of democracy." Yeah, the word "arsenal" sounds warlike to us, too.

    Questions About Warfare

    1. Do popular depictions of WWII underestimate the importance of the material supply chains within and between the different factions? Is war supply a boring subject?
    2. What does the way the United States went to war at the end of 1941 differ from the way it has gone to war in subsequent decades? What has happened to the relationship between the Presidency and the Congress when it comes to declaring war?
    3. What is the proper relationship between the Presidency and the Congress when it comes to declaring war? What does the Constitution say about it? What does our actual history show? How should war be decided upon?
    4. What does it say that WWII was the biggest factor in transforming the American economy into the strongest in the world out of the Great Depression? What should we think about the fact that war is profitable in our world? What does that mean for our future?

    Chew on This

    Modern warfare was total and involved the entire economy.

    Postmodern warfare isn't declared.

  • Passivity

    Technically speaking, the United States could have entered World War II earlier. But public opposition made it politically impossible.

    Much of this can be attributed to admirable hope for peace and a disdain for war. But some of this can also be attributed to a somewhat less admirable, though understandable, fear of "getting involved" in a world war in which the entire planet was already irreversibly "involved."

    Questions About Passivity

    1. What is the place of pacifism in our world today? Doesn't everyone agree that war is terrible?
    2. What is the place of pacifism in American history? Why is it generally admired in cases of civil disobedience and mostly looked down upon in cases of international conflict, especially in WWII.
    3. Is it possible to argue that America's neutrality helped the Allies in the long run? That because it wasn't made obvious to Hitler what the United States would contribute to the war effort, he was led to make poor decisions?
    4. What are we to make of the argument that the appeasement of Hitler and its consequences shows us that such forces must be opposed vigorously from the beginning? That war has to be waged almost preemptively in some cases?

    Chew on This

    Tyranny of all kinds must be checked at all times by anyone who can in order to avoid what would otherwise be inevitable catastrophe.

    Engaging in passivity (when it's possible to "do nothing" or at least to not do some things), can leave you in a stronger position in the end.

  • Good vs. Evil

    WWII is often portrayed in popular culture (and political culture) as the most clear confrontation of good and evil, with good often being the United States and the United Kingdom, evil being the Nazis, Italians, and Japanese, and somewhere in between being the Soviet Union.

    Other portrayals attempt to humanize the individual soldiers and citizens who were caught up in the various totalitarian regimes, supporting the viewpoint that Evil with a capital E is something of a fiction. However, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, a famous intellectual book by Hannah Arendt, talks about how the Nazi atrocities were carried out by bureaucracies with lots of paperwork and chains of workers who were "only doing their jobs."

    The Lend-Lease Act doesn't explicitly discuss the question of good and evil, but as its official title is "An Act to Promote the Defense of the United States," it certainly assumed there was something out there the United States needed to defend itself from.

    Questions About Good vs. Evil

    1. If something that is good for one person or group of people is potentially bad for another, can we ever really clearly define something as being purely one or the other?
    2. Is a dictatorial regime always evil?
    3. Is democracy always good?
    4. If someone intends to do something good, but in the end, the result cause harm to others, does that actually make the person and the deed evil?

    Chew on This

    Regardless of the ethical complication of war, evil is easy to identify in situations where human beings are oppressed by dictatorial regimes.

    The victor of any conflict determines, to some degree, who is right and who is wrong, making clear cut decisions about what is good and what is evil difficult to discern.

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