American involvement in World War II was far from a foregone conclusion when the European segment of the war began with Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939. Powerful forces worked against American intervention, delaying it until 1941. It was only when events in Europe coincided with a shift in public opinion that America entered the war.
Lesson Objectives: This lesson focuses upon the forces that worked against American involvement, and also attempts to provide background for the decision to go to war.
- Class copies of Woodrow Wilson’s 14 Points. Can be found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourteen_Points
- Class copies of the Neutrality Acts. Can be found here:
- A computer projector to show the progression of Axis conquests early in the war, can be found here: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Atlas_of_World_War_II
- A computer with speakers that allow the class to listen to Charles Lindbergh’s anti-war speech and FDR’s Lend-Lease speech , which can be found here:
- NOTE: FDR’s speech is over 30 minutes long. Teachers should skim through the accompanying text and isolate the portion that they wish to use if time prevents them from using the whole.
1. Write the following question on the classroom board and have students answer in a journal (if they keep one for class) or on a separate sheet of paper. “Why would Americans choose to isolate themselves from the rest of the world after World War I?”
2. Distribute copies of Wilson’s 14 Points. Either working individually or in pairs, have students “translate” the points, simplifying them and understanding what the president’s goals were at Versailles. Then discuss which points were actually adopted, paying particular attention to the 14th (the League of Nations) and American retreat from international involvement.
3. Discuss the international impact of the Great Depression. Make sure to key upon the disastrous effects upon the fledgling Weimar Republic in Germany and the rise of Fascist governments in Spain and Italy. Briefly profile Stalin, Mussolini, Franco, and Hitler.
4. Describe the growth and aggression of totalitarian regimes such as the Nazis. Break the class into 3 groups, giving each a different Neutrality Act. Have the groups report to each other upon the contents of their act. Discuss the cumulative significance – that Congress was attempting to insure that America would remain separated from foreign troubles.
5. Using the Wikimedia site, use the classroom projector to show Axis gains from the invasion of Poland (September 1939) to the middle of 1941. Discuss the implications for the United States.
6. Present two opposing viewpoints on the war by having students listen to Charles Lindbergh’s attacks upon intervention and President Roosevelt’s explanation of the necessity for the Lend-Lease program. Close the class with the beginnings of a vocabulary list. Good candidates for terms include isolationism, neutrality, fascism, dictatorship (or individual dictators), Axis, Lend-Lease, but teachers may use any terms that they feel are appropriate.
- Official Presidential portrait of Woodrow Wilson in the Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
This post is part of the series: America’s Involvement in WWII
- America's Involvement in WWII: Moving Away from Inclusionism
- American Entry Into World War II
- Diplomacy and Combat in World War II
- The Home Front in World War II
- The End of World War II and the Aftermath