FDR ordered American military forces to ‘shoot on sight’ months before Pearl Harbor, just as Charles Lindbergh, the original America Firster, was about to address an anti-war rally.
In 1941: Fighting the Shadow War: A Divided America in a World at War, historian Marc Wortman depicts how President Franklin Roosevelt led America into war long before Pearl Harbor while the nation remained deeply divided over its role in World War II. By September 1941, American “Neutrality Patrol” ships were sailing deep within Hitler’s declared Atlantic Ocean combat zone. Violent confrontation between the U.S. and Germany was inevitable. The first shots of the “undeclared war” were fired on September 4, 1941.
That day, deep in the North Atlantic, a naval destroyer, the USS Greer, steaming to Iceland, which American forces had occupied in early July, shadowed a German submarine. The Greer’s skipper trailed the U-boat to alert British forces. After a British patrol plane attacked the U-boat, the German commander, believing he was under attack by the destroyer, fired torpedoes in response. The Greer returned fire before breaking off the attack.
FDR knew that this “unprovoked” attack involved threatening American action. But those German torpedoes gave him the “first shot” he believed he needed to commence open hostilities. It was time to inform the American people that “undeclared” war had begun.
He waited to announce the military’s “shoot on sight” order until the evening of September 11. Perhaps deliberately, the president’s radio address to the American people and the world came in the midst of an America First rally in opposition to U.S. intervention in the war, in Des Moines. Eight thousand people were on hand to hear the anti-war forces’ most powerful spokesperson, aviation hero Charles Lindbergh. Lindbergh’s personal diaries show that, after months of hesitation and preparation, he intended to tell the American people that “other people,” Jews, British supporters, and the White House, he claimed, formed a conspiracy to push the unwilling country into war.
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