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Economic Sanctions

In 1937 a number of nations such as Germany, Italy, and Japan, were making aggressive international moves that took advantage of the weaknesses of other nations. This was less than 20 years after the peace treaty of Versailles ended the first major world war. Many of the leading statesmen in Europe and in the United States had served in World War I and witnessed the horrific violence and destruction. They did not want to go to war again.

One of Roosevelt’s ideas was that economic sanctions could be used to force aggressive countries to stop violating the rights of others. He explained this in the speech he gave in 1937 (this is the primary source you are being asked to read). This was his “quarantine proposal.” He thought that one way to avoid war was to have all the “peace loving” nations agree together to isolate or quarantine an aggressor nation and force them to change their ways. This isolation could take the shape of economic sanctions or denial of trade agreements. At the time, many of the editorial boards of the leading newspapers praised Roosevelt’s proposal. But the nation’s public was not willing, especially during a depression, to cut off trade or any business activities that would further harm the US’s own economy. Too many people were still out of work. Those other nations, and their suffering seemed very far away. And most Americans were not particularly well educated in the affairs of the world, they were focused on needs closer to home.

What do you think? If you did not know about World War II and the massive amounts of devastation it caused, would you, in 1937 agree with Roosevelt to implement economic quarantines of aggressor nations?