On this day in 1935 President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the Neutrality Act, which he called an “expression of the desire to avoid any action which might involve the United States in war.” The signing came at a time when newly installed fascist governments in Europe were beginning to beat the drums of war. In a public statement that day, Roosevelt said that the new law would require American vessels to obtain a license to carry arms, would restrict Americans from sailing on ships from hostile nations, and would impose an embargo on the sale of arms to “belligerent” nations.
Most observers understood “belligerent” to imply Germany under its new leader, Adolf Hitler, and Italy under Benito Mussolini. It also provided the strongest language yet, warning other countries that the United States would increase its patrol of foreign submarines lurking in American waters. This was seen as a response to Hitler’s March 1935 announcement that Germany would no longer honor the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, which prohibited the country from rebuilding her military.
So America chose neutrality. Of course, we know that didn’t last long. It never does. The lesson from history tells us that we must take a stand – or die. Imagine what would have happened if Roosevelt had stayed the course. We might all be speaking German right now. In neutrality there is comfort – but never victory.