Eighty years ago, the US edges away from isolationism



The US political consensus began to edge away the broadly isolationist stance, which had inflicted an embarrassing defat on President Roosevelt in March 1939 when he attempted to renew the “cash and carry” proviso on the supply of vital raw materials and the like – short of actual weapons – that he had introduced into the 1937 Neutrality Bill as a means of supporting Britain and France in the event of war. Unlike Germany the western powers still had the foreign exchange to pay for supplies in hard cash. With Europe at war he had put the measure to Congress again and the Senate had approved it after fierce debate.

The American public were amply reminded of the aggressive habits of both the Nazi and the Soviet regimes by the convoluted saga of a US freighter The City of Flint. She had been carrying tractors to Britain when she was seized by the German pocket battleship Deutschland. The prize crew had taken her to the Norwegian port of Tromsø but she was refused entry. The prize crew next tried the Soviet port of Murmansk where the local authorities showed themselves more cooperative although they did briefly intern the Germans. They were released and allowed back on the The City of Flint which was sent back out to sea, where the Royal Navy forced her to seek refuge in Norway again. The Norwegians boarded her and restored the US crew to control of the vessel. Ultimately she unloaded here cargo in Norway so Britain did lose the benefit.

The shadows of total war spread further over the British landscape. The first measures to ration food were announced, albeit covering only butter and bacon. The first ration books which were remain a feature of British life for the next decade were prepared for distribution. The minister responsible for food supplies, “Shakes” Morrison, also set a voluntary limit on sugar consumption, hinting strongly that mandatory rationing would be needed if the high levels of demand noted since the outbreak of war persisted.

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