Excerpts from "the first rough draft of history" as reported in The Washington Post on this date in the 20th century.
Focused on recovering from the Depression, the United States remained neutral in the early stages of World War II. But after Hitler invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, President Roosevelt persuaded the isolationist Congress to repeal the arms embargo on combatants -- as long as they paid up front and transported the weapons themselves. Although Roosevelt -- and the Post report -- didn't indicate that this move would benefit France and Britain at the expense of the Axis powers, British newspapers recognized the move for what it was. Two excerpts from The Post of Oct. 28, 1939:
By Robert C. Albright
Post Staff Writer
The Senate last night by a vote of 63 to 30 approved the Administration's neutrality bill, repealing the arms embargo and setting up a comprehensive "cash and carry" system barring credit to belligerents and rigorously restricting American ship movements to warring countries.
Passage came at 8:45 p.m. after four weeks of almost continuous debate. Preserved almost unchanged from concerted opposition attacks, the measure was dispatched to the House, which is expected to consider it Tuesday. House leaders reiterated their claims of a narrow but "safe" majority for the bill. ...
Nerves strained by weeks of debate snapped in bitter personal exchanges as the Senate drove into night session. Immediately on passage, the "high plane" debate rule under which the Senate had conducted neutrality proceedings was comletely swept into discord. A heated row broke around an eleventh-hour effort by Senator Connally (Democrat), of Texas, to attach a preamble to the already-approved measure.
Connally, barred from offering the preamble until the measure was passed, offered a policy declaration stating it as the desire of this country to preserve its neutrality, but asserting its intention to waive no rights under international law.
Calling it a "stump speech" and a "misconstruction" of the act, Senators Clark, of Missouri, and Wheeler, of Montana, led an attack on the preamble, and Connally lashed back with a vehement denunciation of what he termed opposition "hooey" and "flub dub." The Texan finallly withdrew the proposal, after Senator Walsh (Democrat) of Massachusetts, sought to amend it to "serve notice on the world" that the United States intends to keep out of all wars except those "for its own safety and defense."
By John B. Reston
Copyright by New York Times
London, Oct. 28 --
The foreign office declined to comment on the Senate vote on the arms embargo, but the morning papers made up for official discretion by spreading the news in large type across their front pages.
"The United States to sell arms to the Allies," declared the Express, adding "Big Roosevelt Victory means 300 planes may leave next week."
"U.S. votes arms for Allies," announced the Daily Sketch. ...
The London Times and the Daily Telegraph were more subdued, but from reading the widely circulated national papers, one could only gather that the Senate's action was a victory for the Allies.
The sketch explained that the cash and carry clause worked to the advantage of Great Britain and France, who control the seas, and then said: "Thus the aggressors are penalized, and that is what the policy of President Roosevelt has been aiming at. By this amendment he is able to give material help to the Allies as a means of avoiding giving them military help."
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