President Roosevelt’s Crusade For War Not Peace: America’s Second Crusade Book Review

America’s Second Crusade was written in 1950 and has stood the test of time as an outstanding work of revisionist scholarship. William Henry Chamberlain documents throughout this book that President Roosevelt claimed that his foreign policy was designed to keep the United States at peace. In reality, Roosevelt made every effort to enter the United States into war.

Chamberlain wrote that the beginning of the war in Europe made it possible for the Roosevelt administration to attempt to eliminate the undesired arms embargo. Roosevelt called a special session of Congress on September 21, 1939, and argued that repeal of the embargo provisions of the Neutrality Act was a means to keep the United States at peace. Roosevelt’s exact words were:

Let no group assume the exclusive label of the “peace bloc.” We all belong to it….I give you my deep and unalterable conviction, based on years of experience as a worker in the field of international peace, that by the repeal of the embargo the United States will more probably remain at peace than if the law remains as it stands today….Our acts must be guided by one single, hardheaded thought– keeping America out of war.1

Many members of Congress disagreed with Roosevelt’s viewpoint. Senator William E. Borah recalled that Secretary of State Hull had once said that the purpose of the Neutrality Act was to keep us out of war. Borah commented: “If the purpose of the Embargo Act then was to keep us out of war, what is the purpose of repealing it: to get us into war?” Senator Robert M. LaFollette, Jr., argued that “repeal can only be interpreted at home and abroad as an official act taken by our Government for the purpose of partial participation in the European war.”2

Chamberlain wrote that Roosevelt began preparing the American public to adopt lend-lease legislation. In a fireside chat to the American public on December 29, 1940, Roosevelt warned of the dire peril supposedly threatening the Western Hemisphere:

Never since Jamestown and Plymouth Rock has American civilization been in such danger as now….If Great Britain goes down, the Axis powers will control the continents of Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and the high seas–and they will be in a position to bring enormous military and naval resources against this hemisphere. It is no exaggeration to say that all of us in the Americas would be living at the point of a gun–a gun loaded with explosive bullets, economic as well as military.3

President Roosevelt signed the Lend-Lease Act into law on March 11, 1941. This legislation marked the end of any pretense of neutrality on the part of the United States. Despite soothing assurances by Roosevelt that the United States would not get into the war, the adoption of the Lend-Lease Act was a decisive move which put America into an undeclared war in the Atlantic. It opened up an immediate appeal for naval action to insure that munitions and supplies procured under the Lend-Lease Act would reach Great Britain.4

Chamberlain wrote that Roosevelt in the prewar period had two faces. For the American people, the Congress, and the public record, there was the face of bland assurance that Roosevelt would do everything in his power to keep the United States out of war. Typical is a speech Roosevelt made to an audience in Boston: “While I am talking to you, mothers and fathers, I give you one more assurance. I have said this before, but I shall say it again and again and again. Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars.” Roosevelt added in a later speech, “The first purpose of our foreign policy is to keep our country out of war.”5

But in more intimate surroundings, Roosevelt presented a second face. Roosevelt talked in private conversations as if the United States was already at war. Dr. Constantin Fotitch, the Yugoslav Ambassador in Washington, stated after a talk with Roosevelt on April 3, 1941: “The United States was still neutral, yet the President spoke to me about the organization of peace after the victory; about ‘common objectives, common efforts and the common enemy;’ in short, as if the United States was already in the war against the Axis.”6

Chamberlain wrote that Roosevelt’s next move toward war in the Atlantic was the issuing of secret orders on August 25, 1941, to the Atlantic Fleet to attack and destroy German and Italian “hostile forces.” These secret orders resulted in an incident on September 4, 1941, between an American destroyer, the Greer, and a German submarine. Roosevelt falsely claimed in a fireside chat to the American public on September 11, 1941, that the German submarine had fired first. The reality is that the Greer had tracked the German submarine for three hours, and broadcast the submarine’s location for the benefit of any British airplanes and destroyers which might be in the vicinity. The German submarine fired at the Greer only after a British airplane had dropped four depth charges which missed their mark. During this fireside chat Roosevelt finally admitted that, without consulting Congress or obtaining congressional sanction, he had ordered a shoot-on-sight campaign against Axis submarines.7

Roosevelt even supported full-page advertisements entitled “Stop Hitler Now” inserted in major American newspapers to sway the American public. The advertisements warned the American people that a Europe dominated by Hitler was a threat to American democracy and the Western Hemisphere. The advertisements asked: “Will the Nazis considerately wait until we are ready to fight them? Anyone who argues that they will wait is either an imbecile or a traitor.” Roosevelt endorsed the advertisement, saying that it was “a great piece of work.”8

Chamberlain documented that the United States began a campaign of economic pressure against Japan to force war. On July 26, 1939, the United States gave notice to Japan of its intention, effective six months from the date, to abrogate the 1911 Treaty of Commerce and Navigation with Japan. On July 2, 1940, Roosevelt signed the Export Control Act, authorizing the President to license or prohibit the export of essential defense materials. Roosevelt acted at once under these powers. U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Joseph C. Grew, remarked, “I have pointed out that once started on a policy of sanctions we must see them through and that such a policy may conceivably lead to eventual war.”9

On July 26, 1940, Roosevelt announced a ban on Japanese acquisition of U.S. high-octane aviation gasoline, certain grades of steel and scrap iron, and some lubricants. On September 26, 1940, Roosevelt imposed a ban on all scrap iron exports to Japan. Since the Japanese steel industry was highly dependent on imported scrap iron from the United States, the ban compelled Japan to draw down its stockpiles and operate its steel industry well below capacity. The embargo was expanded in December 1940 to include iron ore, steel, and steel products. The following month the embargo was expanded to include copper, brass, bronze, zinc, nickel, and potash. Other items were continually added to the list, each of which was much needed for Japanese industrial production. These economic sanctions and other actions by the Roosevelt administration led to Japan’s attack at Pearl Harbor.10

Chamberlain quoted Captain Oliver Lyttelton, the British Minister of Production in Churchill’s cabinet, as saying that the United States was not forced into war. Speaking before the American Chamber of Commerce in London on June 20, 1944, Lyttelton stated: “America provoked Japan to such an extent that the Japanese were forced to attack Pearl Harbor. It is a travesty on history to ever say America was forced into war.”11

Chamberlain wrote: “The war with Germany was also very largely the result of the initiative of the Roosevelt Administration. The destroyer deal, the lend-lease bill, the freezing of Axis assets, the injection of the American Navy, with much secrecy and doubletalk, into the Battle of the Atlantic: these and many similar actions were obvious departures from neutrality, even though a Neutrality Act, which the President had sworn to uphold, was still on the statute books.”12

Chamberlain concluded that America’s entry into World War II was based on illusions:

America’s Second Crusade was a product of illusions which are already bankrupt. It was an illusion that that the United States was at any time in danger of invasion by Nazi Germany. It was an illusion that Hitler was bent on the destruction of the British Empire. It was an illusion that China was capable of becoming a strong, friendly, western-oriented power in the Far East. It was an illusion that a powerful Soviet Union in a weakened and impoverished Eurasia would be a force for peace, conciliation, stability, and international co-operation. It was an illusion that the evils and dangers associated with totalitarianism could be eliminated by giving unconditional support to one form of totalitarianism against another. It was an illusion that a combination of appeasement and personal charm could melt away designs of conquest and domination which were deeply rooted in Russian history and Communist philosophy.

The fruit harvested from seeds of illusion is always bitter.13

A short review of this nature cannot do justice to William Henry Chamberlain’s book. America’s Second Crusade is a well-written and scholarly account of how Roosevelt and his administration lied America into war. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the origins of World War II.

From IHR: William Henry Chamberlin (1897-1969) was an American historian and journalist.
He was born in Brooklyn, New York, and reared in Philadelphia. After high school and college education he went into journalism. His worldview as a young man was idealistic and strongly leftist. The youthful Chamberlin moved to Moscow where he served as the correspondent in Russia of the daily Christian Science Monitor. Later he also served as Moscow correspondent of the liberal British daily Manchester Guardian. It didn’t take long for Chamberlin to lose his youthful enthusiasm for Marxism and the Bolshevik experiment. For the rest of his life, he was a bitter opponent of Communism, and particularly of the form it took in Soviet Russia.
Beginning with Soviet Russia, a volume published in 1930, Chamberlin began writing books exposing what he regarded as the evil and fraud of Soviet Communism. His principal works about Russia in the early 1930s also included The Soviet Planned Economic Order, which appeared in 1931, and Russia’s Iron Age, which came out in 1934. Perhaps his most impressive work was The Russia Revolution: 1917-1921, a scholarly two-volume study first published in 1935. For years it remained the best single English-language work covering the overthrow of the Tsarist regime, the Bolshevik takeover, the Russian Civil War, and the consolidation of Soviet power.
After twelve years of outstanding work as a journalist in Soviet Russia, in 1935 The Christian Science Monitor transferred him to the Far East, from where he reported until 1939, when he was transferred to France. Following the French declaration of war against Germany, and the subsequent defeat and occupation of France, he returned to the United States.
Between 1937 and 1940 appeared additional books by Chamberlin, including Collectivism: A False Utopia, two acclaimed books about Japan, as well as a somewhat autobiographical work, Confessions of an Individualist. During the early 1950s he wrote a regular column for The Wall Street Journal.
Along with many other thoughtful Americans, Chamberlin was disgusted by the role played by the United States in the Second World War. He gave eloquent and scathing voice to his bitterness in his most important work in the postwar period, America’s Second Crusade, a 372-page historical study that was originally published in 1950.

Recommended Reading: America’s ‘Second Crusade’ in Retrospect, Looking Back at the U.S. Role in World War Two By William Henry Chamberlin


1 Chamberlain, William Henry, America’s Second Crusade, Chicago: Regnery, 1950, p. 103.

2 Ibid., pp. 103-104.

3 Ibid., p. 128.

4 Ibid., p. 130.

5 Ibid., pp. 124-125.

6 Ibid., p. 135.

7 Ibid., pp. 147-148.

8 Johnson, Walter, The Battle against Isolation, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1944, pp. 85-87.

9 Grew, Joseph C., Ten Years in Japan, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1944, p. 281.

10 Miller, Edward S., Bankrupting the Enemy: The U.S. Financial Siege of Japan Before Pearl Harbor, Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2007, pp. 88-123.

11 Chamberlain, William Henry, America’s Second Crusade, Chicago: Regnery, 1950, p. 183.

12 Ibid., p. 352.

13 Ibid., p. 364

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2 Responses

  1. Where are the other comments?, or am I the 1st to comment? You should state that here.

  2. Julius Skoolafish says:

    Noted and downloaded, with thanks

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