In my opinion, the legislated neutrality acts of the 1930s are the worst foreign policy blunders in U.S. history — they prevented America from banding together with other nations (Britain, France, Spain, Ethiopia, Czechoslovakia, Poland, China, etc.) and taking a stand against the fascist nations at a time when only a strong policy backed by force could possibly have had any influence on events in Europe and Asia. It wasn’t until the Lend-Lease Act of March, 1941 that the U.S. began to substantially inch away from its stance of “legislated neutrality,” and by then it was FAR too late to deter the march of fascist aggression.
William Bond, main character in China’s Wings, put it perfectly in a letter he wrote to his wife four YEARS before Pearl Harbor, in November of 1937, writing in response to the Japanese invasion of China and the enormous — and largely forgotten — Battle of Shanghai, which forms a major section of China’s Wings.
“If you don’t want raise your boy to be a solider then we must be prepared to join against nations who start such aggressions. I cannot see any other solution. I don’t want any more wars, but I would rather face it again than see little Bondy [their son Langhorne] have to go through what I have seen because his elders didn’t have the intelligence and courage to put a stop to it.”
(Bond fought in the Great War, so he knew of what he wrote.)
I think it’s to my country’s everlasting shame that we couldn’t discern any principle or outrage — in either hemisphere — worth fighting for prior to December 7, 1941.
The best book I’ve found on U.S. foreign policy of the era is Robert Dallek‘s Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Foreign Policy, 1932-1945. (I’m not alone in thinking it’s the best.) It’s worth noting that FDR was adamantly against ALL of the neutrality acts. They were forced on him by an isolationist Congress.