The Great Depression and World War 2: Suggested Answers

  1. Major similarities include a general belief that the federal government should take a leading role in addressing the economic crisis, as well as a willingness to spend unprecedented amounts of money (in peacetime) in doing so. They differ in their understanding of the nature of the crisis, and the specific prescriptions for dealing with it. Hoover saw the Depression as a temporary aberration, so the government’s involvement should be limited to public works projects and coordination through voluntary means of the efforts of private businesses and charitable organizations. Roosevelt, on the other hand, believed that the crisis was the result of a fundamental transformation of American society stemming from the rise of big business and the closing of the frontier. As such, Roosevelt believed that the federal government had to be the dominant force in American society, intervening directly and forcefully to address social and economic problems as they arose. Roosevelt also saw it as the result of human moral failings–greed and selfishness above all–and believed that government could and should promote a spirit of cooperation and self-sacrifice among the American public.
  2. First of all, Roosevelt sought to strengthen the executive branch, in which “the methods of normal times” were replaced “by measures which were suited to the serious and pressing requirements of the moment.” The government spent massively on public works projects. Also, in the name of “planning” it became involved in regulating prices and production in both agriculture and industry–either directly, through regulation, or indirectly, through sponsorship of industrial codes or the manipulation of currency. The government also regulated wages and working conditions. Finally, when the Supreme Court stood in the way of certain New Deal measures, Roosevelt sought to increase executive power over the judicial branch through a plan to add a new justice for each one currently on the bench who was over the age of seventy.
  3. Wheeler’s opposition for aid to Great Britain was based on his belief that it would undermine further efforts toward domestic reform. As much as he hated Nazi Germany and sympathized with the British, he believed that Germany posed no threat to the United States, and that the country needed to prioritize its own interests over those of foreign countries. Moreover, he believed that aid to Great Britain would lead to actual involvement in the war, and that this would result not only in the deaths of thousands of Americans, but also the end of American democracy. Roosevelt, by contrast, believed that a German victory over Great Britain would be a disaster for the United States, as the country could never be secure if Nazi Germany dominated Europe. His ultimate goal was to see his “Four Freedoms” respected throughout the world, and for this to happen dictatorship had to be destroyed.
  4. Roosevelt spoke of the need to vanquish dictatorship so that the “Four Freedoms” would be respected around the world. He also sought to punish Japan for attacking Pearl Harbor, to “make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again.” Eisenhower characterized it as “the Great Crusade,” aimed at “the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.” At the Yalta Conference the U.S. delegation successfully pushed for a global organization dedicated to collective security, and insisted on (albeit less successfully) “the right of all people to choose the form of government under which they will live.”