April 2, 1941:
An Analysis of the Time & International Economic Sanctions of the U.S.

The Second of April, 1941, was just another day in the course of time. Being over sixty years ago, the people of 1941 were in a very different social context. Serious conflict in Europe was one of the major overlying situations of the time period. Nations friendly to the United States were being attacked by Germany. Although the U.S. hadn’t officially entered the war yet, the nation was providing its support monetarily and materially under the newly created Lend-Lease act. Economic policies and sanctions can have profound effects on an adverse nations ability to engage in warfare.

The Great Depression wasn’t that far past, and its effects were still clear and present. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was in the Executive office and his quaint “fireside” radio chats entertained many Americans. Technology had not yet brought along the TV or widespread appliance conveniences (only 55% of American homes had indoor plumbing1 ) and the family unit often gathered around the radio for amusement. The radio provided music, news and entertainment, often featuring mysteries and drama, news, quiz shows, children’s hours and the like. Zoot suits were fashionable for young men, especially in the dance clubs, doing the Jitterbug (a dance), another new sensation. 2

Knowledge of the social context of the times provides insight and allows for a better understanding of the events that took place and the interpretation by firsthand sources. The New York Times was one of the major newspapers at that time, and many relied upon it as their daily news source. On Wednesday, April 2nd, 1941, a day not too different than others, the three-cent New York Times focused its reporting on union riots and strikes in the U.S., and the situation with Europe.

However, even with riots occurring due to strikes3 and President Roosevelt speaking out against the curbs on strikes in industry4, and unions creating a large noise, and the New York City mayor cutting the budget - much of the first few pages was still focused on international news - the war. Information on war tensions between Germany and Yugoslavia, Belgrade’s determination for war, economic sanctions and results on Germany all fill the first page. Flowing on past page two “The Times” broke down the texts of each warring nation’s comminques for the previous day describing recent, significant military actions and their results5.

James B. Reston, a reporter for The New York Times, described the economic sanctions and considerations for further development by the United States upon Nazi Germany and the other Axis powers. While the United States had not yet officially entered the war, nor had it committed any troops for support, it was warring with the Axis powers through economic means. “The United States is rapidly increasing its economic pressure on Germany, Italy, and Japan,6 ” Reston asserted.

The United States could use it’s economic position to help control the ability of the Fascist war machine in Europe. As it was in that time period (and still is to an extent today), nations, especially in the close proximity of the European continent, depended on others for supplies of various kinds. Germany, as well as Italy and Japan, obviously needed outside supplies to maintain their war machines. The U.S. government could, in the interest of assisting our ally Britain, put restrictions on certain materials that Germany and Italy used in general that came from manufacturing in the U.S.

The British were already trying to cut down on incoming supplies to their Fascist enemy, Germany, but through means other than public policy. The British ran Naval blockades around German seaports to put pressure on the Axis powers. The British had done the same to Germany in World War I, which had resulted in a high degree of success in keeping German ships in their home ports. Even so, U-Boat’s were used in WWI to transport supplies through the blockades7 , and the current Third Reich even awarded “Blockade Runner” badges for participants in runs through the naval barrier8.

Because Britain was finding itself fighting the German’s on their own, particularly more so after the fall of France, the United States considered how it could assist its ally through public policy. On the Second of April, 1941 developments in the economic public policy of the United States were made publicly known, and James Reston, a New York Times correspondent, conveniently broke it down into three main points:

The first, “the War Department sent Major Samuel Claybaugh to London to study the strategic possibilities of economic warfare;”9 The government obviously wished to get more firsthand data on how sanctions and policies effected the Axis, and what support is still coming from the U.S. that could be interfered with. “Second, it was learned that a long list of commodities useful to the Axis war effort might soon be added to the export license list,” 10 which would restrict their export and usage in Axis nations. Finally, “Secretary of State Cordell Hull made it clear at his press conference that the United States would not urge the British to send food through the blockade to France.”11

Germany was receiving oddly high amounts of imports from the United States. For example, 1938 Germany imported hardly any U.S. brass, but 9,578 tons of it were sent there in 1940. Just the same, hardly any wheat grown in the U.S. was shipped off to Germany in 1938, but in 1940 Germany was on the receiving end of 3,621,400 bushels of it, according to statistics provided in The New York Times.12 Despite efforts on behalf of the American government, needed materials were still getting through to the Axis powers, and the U.S. was seeking to continually add materials to the “license list” which prohibits and restricts exports on certain items to certain countries.

The last development in the U.S. policy on economic sanctions obviously called for some consideration and thought. The French were also affected by the blockades and economic sanctions because they became deprived of an ample food supply. The United States weighed the effects of their possible decisions and considered loosening the restrictions on the blockade to allow staple food supplies to go through. However, this was not the outcome, as U.S. officials were unsure of what might become the use of the food entering France under the rule of Nazi Germany.

Suspicious that the food would end up in the hands of Axis soldiers or be put to use other than feeding the French civilian population, the U.S. government decided against cutting back restrictions at the time.13Secretary of State Hull made it clear that the first consideration in the United States policy was the success of the British.”14 Also on April 2, 1941, French Ambassador Gaston Henry-Haye met with Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles to discuss possible ways to allow the French to receive shipments of food and transfer shipments between occupied and unoccupied territories of France. The need for food was described as “necessary to France’s internal economy,” by the French Ambassador.15

Economics played a large role in the war effort, since economical power was needed to produce and build up needed war supplies. Financial figures related to all of this war effort also came out on April 2nd, 1941 from Great Britain. It was closely estimated that Britain was pouring around £13,000,000 per day into the war with Germany. The British’s financial year ended the day before, April 1st, and therefore figures became available indicating that war costs were not only rising for the British, but last year’s total costs came to £2,458,378,573 (£2.4 Billion)16 , which is equivalent to £133.1 Billion in Britain today17

It is obvious that economic sanctions and pressure through public policies on exports can have a profound effect on other nations, as seen in the resolutions made public on April 2nd. The United States demonstrated the significance of their decisions by the consultation and consideration they put into making these policies; constantly revising policies and consulting Ambassadors and foreign leaders. While the official stance of the U.S. was behind Britain, it did not have to send troops or weaponry in order to make a considerable difference in the war effort for Britain, nor did it formally engage in warfare with the Axis powers. Economics, for this reason, is one of the major fronts, besides that of the land, sea, air, and propaganda fronts on which warring nations battle. Scrambling for resources for each’s own war machine is the at the root of the war cause. Without the proper resources, production of the needed supplies to make a soldier useable in battle cannot take place. All of this, concluded from research on April 2, 1941 - an obscure, yet still significant date in American history.

References Given by Footnote Numberings:

1. America in the 20th Century, ed. by Janet McDonnell. Vol. 5. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 1995
2. Doug Stewart, “This Joint is Jumping,” Smithsonian, 1999 29(12): 60-70, 72, 74
3. “C.I.O. Orders a Ford Strike as ‘Stoppage’ Tie up plant ‘Illegal Seizure’ is charged,” The New York Times, 2 April 1941, page 1, 15.
4. “President Opposes New Strike Curbs,” The New York Times, 2 April 1941, page 1, 14.
5. “Texts of the Day’s War Communiqués,” The New York Times, 2 April 1941, page 2.
6. “U.S. Increases Its Pressure in Economic War on Axis,” The New York Times, 2 April 1941, page 1.
7. “His Imperial German Majesty’s U-Boats in WWI, uboat.net, <http://www.uboat.NET/history/wwi/index.html> (14 November 2001)
8. Wehrmacht Awards and Decorations 1933-1945, <http://www.wehrmacht-awards.com> (14 November 2001).
9, 10, 11. “U.S. Increases Its Pressure In Economic War on Axis,” The New York Times, 2 April 1941, page 1.
12. “US Puts Pressure on Axis Economies,” The New York Times, 2 April 1941, page 8.
13. “US Puts Pressure on Axis Economies,” The New York Times, 2 April 1941, page 8.
14, 15. “U.S. Increases Its Pressure In Economic War on Axis,” The New York Times, 2 April 1941, page 1.
15. “U.S. Puts Pressure on Axis Economies: License List is Revised,” The New York Times, 2 April 1941, page 8.
16. “Britain Spending £13,000,000 a day,” The New York Times, 2 April 1941, page 2.
17. Economic History Services, <http://www.eh.net/ehresources/howmuch/poundq.php> (17 November 2001).