During Stalin’s totalitarian rule of the Soviet Union, he transformed the state through aggressive economic planning, the development of a cult of personality around himself, and the violent repression of so-called “enemies of the working class,” overseeing the murder of millions of Soviet citizens.
Analyze the political atmosphere of the Soviet Union
- After being appointed General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1922, Joseph Stalin sought to destroy his enemies while transforming Soviet society with aggressive economic planning, in particular a sweeping collectivization of agriculture and rapid development of heavy industry.
- Stalin consolidated his power within the party and the state to degree of a cult of personality.
- Soviet secret-police and the mass-mobilization Communist party served as Stalin’s major tools in molding Soviet society.
- Stalin’s brutal methods to achieve his goals, which included party purges, political repression of the general population, and forced collectivization, led to millions of deaths in Gulag labor camps and during man-made famine.
- In August 1939, after failed attempts to conclude anti-Hitler pacts with other major European powers, Stalin entered into a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. This agreement divided their influence and territory within Eastern Europe, resulting in their invasion of Poland in September of that year.
- First Five-Year Plan: A list of economic goals created by General Secretary Joseph Stalin and based on his policy of Socialism in One Country, implemented between 1928 and 1932, that focused on the forced collectivization of agriculture.
- Joseph Stalin: The leader and effective dictator of the Soviet Union from the mid-1920s until his death in 1953.
- Bolsheviks: The founding and ruling political party of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, a communist party organized on the basis of democratic centralism.
The Rise of Stalin
From its creation, the government in the Soviet Union was based on the one-party rule of the Communist Party (Bolsheviks). The stated purpose of the one-party state was to ensure that capitalist exploitation would not return to the Soviet Union and that the principles of democratic centralism would be effective in representing the people’s will in a practical manner. Debate over the future of the economy provided the background for a power struggle in the years after Lenin’s death in 1924. Initially, Lenin was to be replaced by a “troika” (“collective leadership”) consisting of Grigory Zinoviev of the Ukrainian SSR, Lev Kamenev of the Russian SFSR, and Joseph Stalin of the Transcaucasian SFSR.
On April 3, 1922, Stalin was named the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Lenin had appointed Stalin the head of the Workers’ and Peasants ‘ Inspectorate, which gave Stalin considerable power. By gradually consolidating his influence and isolating and outmaneuvering his rivals within the party, Stalin became the undisputed leader of the Soviet Union and by the end of the 1920s had established totalitarian rule. In October 1927, Grigory Zinoviev and Leon Trotsky were expelled from the Central Committee and forced into exile.
In 1928, Stalin introduced the First Five-Year Plan for building a socialist economy. In place of the internationalism expressed by Lenin throughout the Revolution, it aimed to build Socialism in One Country. In industry, the state assumed control over all existing enterprises and undertook an intensive program of industrialization. In agriculture, rather than adhering to the “lead by example” policy advocated by Lenin, forced collectivization of farms was implemented all over the country. This was intended to increase agricultural output from large-scale mechanized farms, bring the peasantry under more direct political control, and make tax collection more efficient. Collectivization brought social change on a scale not seen since the abolition of serfdom in 1861 and alienation from control of the land and its produce. Collectivization also meant a drastic drop in living standards for many peasants, leading to violent reactions.
Purges and Executions
From collectivization, famines ensued, causing millions of deaths; surviving kulaks were persecuted and many sent to Gulags to do forced labour. Social upheaval continued in the mid-1930s. Stalin’s Great Purge resulted in the execution or detainment of many “Old Bolsheviks” who had participated in the October Revolution with Lenin. During the Great Purge, Lenin undertook a massive campaign of repression of the party, government, armed forces, and intelligentsia, in which millions of so-called “enemies of the working class” were imprisoned, exiled, or executed, often without due process. Major figures in the Communist Party and government, and many Red Army high commanders, were killed after being convicted of treason in show trials. According to declassified Soviet archives, in 1937 and 1938, the NKVD arrested more than 1.5 million people, of whom 681,692 were shot. Over those two years, that averages to over 1,000 executions a day. According to historian Geoffrey Hosking, “…excess deaths during the 1930s as a whole were in the range of 10–11 million.”
Cult of Personality
Cults of personality developed in the Soviet Union around both Stalin and Lenin. Numerous towns, villages and cities were renamed after the Soviet leader and the Stalin Prize and Stalin Peace Prize were named in his honor. He accepted grandiloquent titles (e.g., “Coryphaeus of Science,” “Father of Nations,” “Brilliant Genius of Humanity,” “Great Architect of Communism,” “Gardener of Human Happiness,” and others), and helped rewrite Soviet history to provide himself a more significant role in the revolution of 1917. At the same time, according to Nikita Khrushchev, he insisted that he be remembered for “the extraordinary modesty characteristic of truly great people.” Although statues of Stalin depict him at a height and build approximating the very tall Tsar Alexander III, sources suggest he was approximately 5 feet 4 inches.
International Relations Pre-WWII
The early 1930s saw closer cooperation between the West and the USSR. From 1932 to 1934, the Soviet Union participated in the World Disarmament Conference. In 1933, diplomatic relations between the United States and the USSR were established when in November, newly elected President of the United States Franklin D. Roosevelt chose to formally recognize Stalin’s Communist government and negotiated a new trade agreement between the two nations. In September 1934, the Soviet Union joined the League of Nations. After the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, the USSR actively supported the Republican forces against the Nationalists, who were supported by Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.
In December 1936, Stalin unveiled a new Soviet Constitution. This document was seen as a personal triumph for Stalin, who on this occasion was described by Pravda as a “genius of the new world, the wisest man of the epoch, the great leader of communism.” By contrast, Western historians and historians from former Soviet occupied countries have viewed the constitution as a meaningless propaganda document.
The late 1930s saw a shift towards the Axis powers. In 1939, almost a year after the United Kingdom and France concluded the Munich Agreement with Germany, the USSR dealt with the Nazis both militarily and economically during extensive talks. The two countries concluded the German–Soviet Nonaggression Pact and the German–Soviet Commercial Agreement in August 1939. The nonaggression pact made possible Soviet occupation of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Bessarabia, northern Bukovina, and eastern Poland. In late November of the same year, unable to coerce the Republic of Finland by diplomatic means into moving its border 16 miles back from Leningrad, Joseph Stalin ordered the invasion of Finland.
In the east, the Soviet military won several decisive victories during border clashes with the Empire of Japan in 1938 and 1939. However, in April 1941 USSR signed the Soviet–Japanese Neutrality Pact with the Empire of Japan, recognizing the territorial integrity of Manchukuo, a Japanese puppet state.
France at the End of the Interwar Period
During the interwar period, war-torn France collected reparations from Germany, in some cases through occupation, suffered social upheaval and the consequent rise of socialism, and promoted defensive foreign policies.
Describe the state of France prior to 1939
- Foreign policy was of central interest to France during the interwar period.
- Because of the horrible devastation of the war, including the death of 1.5 million French soldiers, the destruction of much of the steel and coal regions, and the long-term costs for veterans, France demanded that Germany assume many of the costs incurred from the war through annual reparation payments.
- As a response to the failure of the Weimar Republic to pay reparations in the aftermath of World War I, France occupied the industrial region of the Ruhr as a means of ensuring repayments from Germany.
- In the 1920s, France established an elaborate system of border defenses called the Maginot Line, designed to fight off any German attack.
- France experienced a mild financial depression during the time of the Great Depression, but saw a more potent social reaction to financial strain culminating in a riot in 1934.
- Socialist Leon Blum, leading the Popular Front, brought together Socialists and Radicals to become Prime Minister from 1936 to 1937.
- Treaty of Versailles: One of the peace treaties at the end of World War I, which required “Germany [to] accept the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage” during the war.
- Weimar Republic: An unofficial designation for the German state between 1919 and 1933.
- Popular Front: An alliance of left-wing movements during the interwar period, including the French Communist Party (PCF), the French Section of the Workers’ International (SFIO), and the Radical and Socialist Party.
- Maginot Line: A line of concrete fortifications, obstacles, and weapon installations that France constructed on the French side of its borders with Switzerland, Germany, and Luxembourg during the 1930s.
Losses from WWI, Gains from the Treaty of Versailles
The war brought great losses of manpower and resources. Fought in large part on French soil, it led to approximately 1.4 million French dead including civilians, and four times as many wounded. Peace terms were imposed by the Big Four, meeting in Paris in 1919: David Lloyd George of Britain, Vittorio Orlando of Italy, Georges Clemenceau of France, and Woodrow Wilson of the United States. Clemenceau demanded the harshest terms and won most of them in the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. Germany was forced to admit its guilt for starting the war, and its military was permanently weakened. Germany also had to pay huge sums in war reparations to the Allies (who in turn had large loans from the U.S. to pay off).
France regained Alsace-Lorraine and occupied the German industrial Saar Basin, a coal and steel region. The German African colonies were put under League of Nations mandates to be administered by France and other victors. From the remains of the Ottoman Empire, France acquired the Mandate of Syria and the Mandate of Lebanon.
France was part of the Allied force that occupied the Rhineland following the Armistice. Foch supported Poland in the Greater Poland Uprising and in the Polish–Soviet War, and France also joined Spain during the Rif War. From 1925 until his death in 1932, Aristide Briand, as prime minister during five short intervals, directed French foreign policy, using his diplomatic skills and sense of timing to forge friendly relations with Weimar Germany as the basis of a genuine peace within the framework of the League of Nations. He realized France could neither contain the much larger Germany by itself nor secure effective support from Britain or the League.
As a response to the failure of the Weimar Republic to pay reparations in the aftermath of World War I, France occupied the industrial region of the Ruhr to ensure repayments from Germany. The intervention was a failure, and France accepted the American solution to the reparations issues expressed in the Dawes Plan and the Young Plan.
In the 1920s, France established an elaborate system of border defenses called the Maginot Line, designed to fight off any German attack. (Unfortunately, the Maginot Line did not extend into Belgium, where Germany attacked in 1940.) Military alliances were signed with weak powers in 1920–21, called the “Little Entente.”
Great Depression and Social Upheaval
The worldwide financial crisis affected France a bit later than other countries, hitting around 1931. While the GDP in the 1920s grew at the very strong rate of 4.43% per year, the 1930s rate fell to only 0.63%. The depression was relatively mild: unemployment peaked under 5% and the fall in production was at most 20% below the 1929 output; there was no banking crisis.
In contrast to the mild economic upheaval, though, the political upheaval was enormous. After 1931, rising unemployment and political unrest led to the February 6, 1934, riots. Socialist Leon Blum, leading the Popular Front, brought together Socialists and Radicals to become Prime Minister from 1936 to 1937; he was the first Jew and the first Socialist to lead France. The Communists in the Chamber of Deputies (parliament) voted to keep the government in power and generally supported its economic policies, but rejected its foreign policies. The Popular Front passed numerous labor reforms, which increased wages, cut working hours to 40 hours with overtime illegal, and provided many lesser benefits to the working class, such as mandatory two-week paid vacations. However, renewed inflation canceled the gains in wage rates, unemployment did not fall, and economic recovery was very slow. Historians agree that the Popular Front was a failure in terms of economics, foreign policy, and long-term stability. At first the Popular Front created enormous excitement and expectations on the left—including large-scale sitdown strikes—but in the end it failed to live up to its promise. In the long run, however, later Socialists took inspiration from the attempts of the Popular Front to set up a welfare state.
The government joined Britain in establishing an arms embargo during the Spanish Civil War (1936–39). Blum rejected support for the Spanish Republicans because of his fear that civil war might spread to deeply divided France. Financial support in military cooperation with Poland was also a policy. The government nationalized arms suppliers and dramatically increased its program of rearming the French military in a last-minute catch up with the Germans.
Appeasement of Germany in cooperation with Britain was the policy after 1936, as France sought peace even in the face of Hitler’s escalating demands. Édouard Daladier refused to go to war against Germany and Italy without British support as Neville Chamberlain wanted to save peace at Munich in 1938.
The United Kingdom and Appeasement
Vivid memories of the horrors and deaths of the World War made Britain and its leaders strongly inclined to pacifism in the interwar era, exemplified by their policy of appeasement toward Nazi Germany, which led to the German annexation of Austria and parts of Czechoslovakia.
Explain why Prime Minister Chamberlain followed the policy of appeasement
- World War I was won by Britain and its allies at a terrible human and financial cost, creating a sentiment to avoid war at all costs.
- The theory that dictatorships arose where peoples had grievances and that by removing the source of these grievances the dictatorship would become less aggressive led to Britain’s policy of appeasement.
- One major example of appeasement was when Britain learned of Hitler’s intention to annex Austria, which Chamberlain’s government decided it was unable to stop and thus acquiesced to what later became known as the Anschluss of March 1938.
- When Germany intended to annex parts of Czechoslovakia, Britain and other European powers came together without consulting Czechoslovakia and created the Munich Agreement, allowing Hitler to take over portions of Czechoslovakia named the Sudetenland.
- Anschluss: The Nazi propaganda term for the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany in March 1938.
- appeasement: A diplomatic policy of making political or material concessions to an enemy power in order to avoid conflict.
- Munich Agreement: A settlement permitting Nazi Germany’s annexation of portions of Czechoslovakia along the country’s borders mainly inhabited by German speakers, for which a new territorial designation “Sudetenland” was coined.
The Policy of Appeasement
World War I was won by Britain and its allies at a terrible human and financial cost, creating a sentiment that wars should be avoided at all costs. The League of Nations was founded with the idea that nations could resolve their differences peacefully. As with many in Europe who had witnessed the horrors of the First World War and its aftermath, United Kingdom Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was committed to peace. The theory was that dictatorships arose where peoples had grievances, and that by removing the source of these grievances, the dictatorship would become less aggressive. His attempts to deal with Nazi Germany through diplomatic channels and quell any sign of dissent from within, particularly from Churchill, were called by Chamberlain “the general policy of appeasement.”
Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement emerged from the failures of the League of Nations and of collective security. The League of Nations was set up in the aftermath of World War I in the hope that international cooperation and collective resistance to aggression might prevent another war. Members of the League were entitled to assist other members if they came under attack. The policy of collective security ran in parallel with measures to achieve international disarmament and where possible was based on economic sanctions against an aggressor. It appeared ineffectual when confronted by the aggression of dictators, notably Germany’s Remilitarization of the Rhineland and Italian leader Benito Mussolini ‘s invasion of Abyssinia.
The first European crisis of Chamberlain’s premiership was over the German annexation of Austria. The Nazi regime was already behind the assassination of Austrian Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss in 1934 and was now pressuring Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg. Informed of Germany’s objectives, Chamberlain’s government decided it was unable to stop these events and acquiesced to what later became known as the Anschluss of March 1938. Although the victorious Allies of World War I had prohibited the union of Austria and Germany, their reaction to the Anschluss was mild. Even the strongest voices against annexation, those of Fascist Italy, France, and Britain, were not backed by force. In the House of Commons Chamberlain said that “The hard fact is that nothing could have arrested what has actually happened [in Austria] unless this country and other countries had been prepared to use force.” The American reaction was similar. The international reaction to the events of March 12, 1938 led Hitler to conclude that he could use even more aggressive tactics in his plan to expand the Third Reich. The Anschluss paved the way for Munich in September 1938 because it indicated the likely non-response of Britain and France to future German aggression.
Immediately after the Anschluss, Vienna’s Jews were forced to wash pro-independence slogans from the city’s pavements.
The Sudetenland Crisis and the Munich Agreement
The second crisis came over the Sudetenland area of Czechoslovakia, home to a large ethnic German minority. Under the guise of seeking self-determination for the Sudeten Germans, Hitler planned to launch a war of aggression on October 1, 1938. In an effort to defuse the looming crisis, Chamberlain followed a strategy of pressuring Prague to make concessions to the ethnic Germans while warning Berlin about the dangers of war. The problems of the tight wire act were well-summarized by the Chancellor the Exchequer Sir John Simon in a diary entry during the May Crisis of 1938:
We are endeavoring at one & the same time, to restrain Germany by warning her that she must not assume we could remain neutral if she crossed the frontier; to stimulate Prague to make concessions; and to make sure that France will not take some rash action such as mobilization (when has mobilization been anything but a prelude to war?), under the delusion that we would join her in defense of Czechoslovakia. We won’t and can’t-but an open declaration to this effect would only give encouragement to Germany’s intransigence.
In a letter to his sister, Chamberlain wrote that he would contact Hitler to tell him “The best thing you [Hitler] can do is tell us exactly what you want for your Sudeten Germans. If it is reasonable we will urge the Czechs to accept and if they do, you must give assurances that you will let them alone in the future.”
Out of these attitudes grew what is known as the Munich Agreement, signed on September 30, 1938, a settlement permitting Nazi Germany’s annexation of portions of Czechoslovakia along the country’s borders mainly inhabited by German speakers. The purpose of the conference was to discuss the future of the Sudetenland in the face of ethnic demands made by Adolf Hitler. The agreement was signed by Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and Italy. Sudetenland was of immense strategic importance to Czechoslovakia, as most of its border defenses and banks were situated there along with heavy industrial districts. Because the state of Czechoslovakia was not invited to the conference, it considered itself betrayed and refers to this agreement as the “Munich Betrayal.”
Czechoslovakia was informed by Britain and France that it could either resist Nazi Germany alone or submit to the prescribed annexations. The Czechoslovak government, realizing the hopelessness of fighting the Nazis alone, reluctantly capitulated and agreed to abide by the agreement. The settlement gave Germany the Sudetenland starting October 10 and de facto control over the rest of Czechoslovakia as long as Hitler promised to go no further. On September 30 after some rest, Chamberlain went to Hitler and asked him to sign a peace treaty between the United Kingdom and Germany. After Hitler’s interpreter translated it for him, he happily agreed.
As Europe moved closer to war in the late 1930s, the United States Congress continued to demand American neutrality, but President Roosevelt and the American public began to support war with Nazi Germany by 1941.
Describe why the United States initially stayed out of the war
- In the wake of the First World War, non-interventionist tendencies of U.S. foreign policy and resistance to the League of Nations gained ascendancy, led by Republicans in the Senate such as William Borah and Henry Cabot Lodge.
- Although the U.S. was unwilling to commit to the League of Nations, they continued to engage in international negotiations and treaties that sought international peace.
- The economic depression that ensued after the Crash of 1929 further committed the United States to doctrine of isolationism, the nation focusing instead on economic recovery.
- Between 1936 and 1937, much to the dismay of President Roosevelt, Congress passed the Neutrality Acts, which included an act forbidding Americans from sailing on ships flying the flag of a belligerent nation or trading arms with warring nations.
- When the war broke out in Europe after Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, the American people split into two camps: non-interventionists and interventionists.
- As 1940 became 1941, the actions of the Roosevelt administration made it more and more clear that the U.S. was on a course to war.
- By late 1941, 72% of Americans agreed that “the biggest job facing this country today is to help defeat the Nazi Government,” and 70% thought that defeating Germany was more important than staying out of the war.
- Kellogg–Briand Pact: A 1928 international agreement in which signatory states promised not to use war to resolve “disputes or conflicts of whatever nature or of whatever origin they may be, which may arise among them.”
- Lend-Lease Act: A program under which the United States supplied Free France, the United Kingdom, the Republic of China, and later the USSR and other Allied nations with food, oil, and materiel between 1941 and August 1945.
In the wake of the First World War, non-interventionist tendencies of U.S. foreign policy gained ascendancy. The Treaty of Versailles and thus U.S. participation in the League of Nations, even with reservations, was rejected by the Republican-dominated Senate in the final months of Wilson’s presidency. A group of senators known as the Irreconcilables, identifying with both William Borah and Henry Cabot Lodge, had great objections regarding the clauses of the treaty which compelled America to come to the defense of other nations. Lodge, echoing Wilson, issued 14 Reservations regarding the treaty; among them, the second argued that America would sign only with the understanding that:
Nothing compels the United States to ensure border contiguity or political independence of any nation, to interfere in foreign domestic disputes regardless of their status in the League, or to command troops or ships without Congressional declaration of war.
While some of the sentiment was grounded in adherence to Constitutional principles, some bore a reassertion of nativist and inward-looking policy.
Although the U.S. was unwilling to commit to the League of Nations, they continued to engage in international negotiations and treaties. In August 1928, 15 nations signed the Kellogg-Briand Pact, brainchild of American Secretary of State Frank Kellogg and French Foreign Minister Aristide Briand. This pact, said to outlaw war and show the U.S. commitment to international peace, had its semantic flaws. For example, it did not hold the U.S. to the conditions of any existing treaties, still allowed European nations the right to self-defense, and stated that if one nation broke the Pact, it would be up to the other signatories to enforce it. The Kellogg–Briand Pact was more of a sign of good intentions on the part of the U.S. than a legitimate step towards the sustenance of world peace.
The economic depression that ensued after the Crash of 1929 also encouraged non-intervention. The country focused mostly on addressing the problems of the national economy while the rise of aggressive expansionism policies by Fascist Italy and the Empire of Japan led to conflicts such as the Italian conquest of Ethiopia and the Japanese invasion of Manchuria. These events led to ineffectual condemnations by the League of Nations, while official American response was muted. America also did not take sides in the brutal Spanish Civil War.
Non-Intervention Before Entering WWII
As Europe moved closer to war in the late 1930s, the U.S. Congress continued to demand American neutrality. Between 1936 and 1937, much to the dismay of President Roosevelt, Congress passed the Neutrality Acts. For example, in the final Neutrality Act, Americans could not sail on ships flying the flag of a belligerent nation or trade arms with warring nations. Such activities played a role in American entrance into World War I.
On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland and Britain and France subsequently declared war on Germany, marking the start of World War II. In an address to the American people two days later, President Roosevelt assured the nation that he would do all he could to keep them out of war. However, his words showed his true goals. “When peace has been broken anywhere, the peace of all countries everywhere is in danger,” Roosevelt said. Even though he was intent on neutrality as the official policy of the U.S., he still echoed the dangers of staying out of the war. He also cautioned the American people to not let their wish to avoid war at all costs supersede the security of the nation.
The war in Europe split the American people into two camps: non-interventionists and interventionists. The sides argued over America’s involvement in this Second World War. The basic principle of the interventionist argument was fear of German invasion. By the summer of 1940, France suffered a stunning defeat by Germans, and Britain was the only democratic enemy of Germany. In a 1940 speech, Roosevelt argued, “Some, indeed, still hold to the now somewhat obvious delusion that we … can safely permit the United States to become a lone island … in a world dominated by the philosophy of force.” A national survey found that in the summer of 1940, 67% of Americans believed that a German-Italian victory would endanger the United States, that if such an event occurred 88% supported “arm[ing] to the teeth at any expense to be prepared for any trouble”, and that 71% favored “the immediate adoption of compulsory military training for all young men.”
Ultimately, the ideological rift between the ideals of the U.S. and the goals of the fascist powers empowered the interventionist argument. Writer Archibald MacLeish asked, “How could we sit back as spectators of a war against ourselves?” In an address to the American people on December 29, 1940, President Roosevelt said, “the Axis not merely admits but proclaims that there can be no ultimate peace between their philosophy of government and our philosophy of government.”
However, there were many who held on to non-interventionism. Although a minority, they were well-organized and had a powerful presence in Congress. Non-interventionists rooted a significant portion of their arguments in historical precedent, citing events such as Washington’s farewell address and the failure of World War I. “If we have strong defenses and understand and believe in what we are defending, we need fear nobody in this world,” Robert Maynard Hutchins, President of the University of Chicago, wrote in a 1940 essay. Isolationists believed that the safety of the nation was more important than any foreign war.
As 1940 became 1941, the actions of the Roosevelt administration made it more and more clear that the U.S. was on a course to war. This policy shift, driven by the President, came in two phases. The first came in 1939 with the passage of the Fourth Neutrality Act, which permitted the U.S. to trade arms with belligerent nations as long as these nations came to America to retrieve the arms and paid for them in cash. This policy was quickly dubbed “Cash and Carry. The second phase was the Lend-Lease Act of early 1941, which allowed the President “to lend, lease, sell, or barter arms, ammunition, food, or any ‘defense article’ or any ‘defense information’ to ‘the government of any country whose defense the President deems vital to the defense of the United States.’” American public opinion supported Roosevelt’s actions. As U.S. involvement in the Battle of the Atlantic grew with incidents such as the sinking of the USS Reuben James (DD-245), by late 1941 72% of Americans agreed that “the biggest job facing this country today is to help defeat the Nazi Government,” and 70% thought that defeating Germany was more important than staying out of the war.
Source: World History