The failure of European nations to stop the aggression of Adolf Hitler and other totalitarian dictators led to World War II, with the United States officially being drawn into the war as a result of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. Americans joined the efforts by joining the armed forces and those that did not, supported the war by sacrificing and serving at home. This global war fought in Europe and the Pacific would end with an Allied victory first in Europe and later in the Pacific with the use of the first nuclear weapons.
MacArthur soon left for the Philippines to prepare the islands for independence. But when Japan attacked the Philippines in World War II, MacArthur’s troops were initially defeated. President Franklin Roosevelt ordered him to Australia. MacArthur assured his men, “I shall return.” True to his word, in 1944 he liberated the Philippines. In 1945 he accepted the Japanese surrender. For the next five years he served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers in Japan, helping the country to rebuild and establish a democratic government.
General MacArthur served his country once again during the Korean War. During this war, MacArthur had disagreements with President Truman over the course of action to take. When he made these differences public, President Truman relieved him of his duties in Korea. As Commander-in-Chief, President Truman had the authority to take this action. This led to MacArthur’s retirement from the military in 1951. He would return one final time to West Point to give his Duty, Honor, Country address in 1962.
When he took office the country was in the depths of the Great Depression. Thirteen million people were out of work and almost all banks had closed. In his First Inaugural Address he likened the crisis to a foreign invasion, and asserted that the Constitution’s separation of powers and system of checks and balances would have to be temporarily suspended in order to see the country through. He proposed what he called the New Deal: expansive federal programs, funded by citizens paying taxes. He sent a record number of bills to Congress attempting to bring relief to farmers and the unemployed. In 1935 he proposed the Social Security Act. Controls were enacted on utilities and businesses, and the government moved towards regulating the economy. The repeal of Prohibition also brought in more tax revenue for the federal government.
After his decisive reelection victory in 1936, Roosevelt became frustrated with the Supreme Court which had been overturning some New Deal legislation as unconstitutional expansions of Congress’ powers. In what has come to be called his “Court-packing scheme,” he proposed that Congress increase the size of the Supreme Court to a maximum of fifteen members. This proposal failed, but two justices changed their voting, and the court began upholding New Deal laws.
Roosevelt faced issues of national interest and foreign policy. He attempted to keep the country out of World War II, favoring a “Good Neighbor” policy of neutrality. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Roosevelt believed he had to act; Congress declared war on Japan the next day and on Germany and Italy three days later. Roosevelt served as Commander in Chief of the military making the defeat of Nazi Germany the first priority. Fearing Japanese saboteurs, he signed Executive Order 9066 authorizing the forced internment of Japanese Americans living on the West Coast. This action was upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court in Korematsu v. United States (1944).
In all, President Roosevelt was elected to four terms as President. Until that time, U.S. presidents had followed the example of President George Washington who had limited his service to two terms. In 1951, the 22nd Amendment was passed limiting U.S. Presidents to two terms.
Documents/Supreme Court Cases
Some people argued that the Japanese Americans who were interned were denied their liberty and property without due process of law as required by the U. S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment. The Supreme Court however, in Korematsu v United States in 1944 upheld the constitutionality of the Japanese internment as a wartime measure. In 1988, Congress passed and President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act in which the nation officially apologized for the internment, and the U. S. paid each of sixty thousand Japanese American survivors $20,000 to compensate them for their lost liberty and property.
The law contained four important components: (1) authorized up to 52 weeks of unemployment compensation at $20 per week with adjusted compensation for self-employed veterans restoring themselves in business rather than seeking jobs from others; (2) guaranteed 50 percent of loans up to $2,000 to veterans with interest not more than 4 percent to purchase a home or a business; (3) authorized $500 million for construction of additional veterans’ facilities, including hospitals; and (4) authorized allowances for four years of individual grants of $500 a year for training and education, plus monthly subsistence of $50 a month for single and $75 a month for married veterans. As commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the legislation in 2004 was given: “Representative Christopher Smith (R-New Jersey), chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, remarked … that “the original GI Bill of Rights ‘produced 450,000 engineers, 238,000 teachers, 91,000 scientists, 67,000 doctors, 22,000 dentists, and another one-million college-educated men and women.” He noted that “another five million men and women received other schooling or training on the GI Bill, helping to create the modern middle class.” Before the GI Bill, the great majority of Americans were renters. Now, most Americans live in their own homes. Half of the college students who used the GI Bill came from homes where neither of their parents had attended college, changing the face of higher education.
By a 6-0 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that the President’s action was a constitutional exercise of government power during a time of “emergency and peril” for the nation. Writing for the majority, Justice Hugo Black explained that the internments had “a definite and close relationship to the prevention of espionage and sabotage.” He went on to explain that the government needed to act quickly in wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Black wrote: “There was evidence of disloyalty on the part of some, the military authorities considered that the need for action was great, and time was short.”
One of the dissenting justices wrote that he dissented “from this legalization of racism” and went on to assert that racial discrimination “is unattractive in any setting but it is utterly revolting among a free people who have embraced the principles set forth in the Constitution of the United States.”
When President Roosevelt died and Vice-President Harry Truman took office, he had to be brought up to speed concerning the project. When Japan refused to surrender, President Truman decided to authorize the use of the atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima and three days later on Nagasaki. The Japanese surrendered after seeing the destruction in both cities. While the bombs did finally end the war, they also ushered in the nuclear age and the race between nations to develop their stock of atomic weapons.