Master of Arts (MA)
Semester of Degree Completion
Germany's annexation of Austria in March 1938 was the cumulation of almost twenty years of Austrian dissatisfaction with the Treaty of Saint Germain, the lack of consistent political and economic support by the western democracies and the international instability of the 1930s. All these factors worked in favor of pro-Anschluss Germans and Austrians and to the handicap of the allies. Once Adolf Hitler came to power, he drastically changed German policy toward Austria. Anschluss had special significance for Hitler and his decision to abandon an evolutionary revision of Austria's political status to one of radical expansionism and annexation proved fatal to the independence of Austria.
Naturally, Germany's forced union with Austria drew world-wide attention and protest. Among the nations to object to Anschluss was the United States. Approaching the Anschluss, the United States had many domestic problems, which dictated what foreign policy the American government could pursue. The isolationists dominated not only the Middle West, but the entire nation and Congress as well. President Roosevelt could not endanger his secure political position over a controversial foreign policy. However, at the end of 1937, the President decided to challenge isolation, advocating a gradual acknowledgment of America's role as a world power.
Only six months after Roosevelt's Quarantine Speech, Germany annexed Austria. The overt German action caused great concern in Washington, and even though the American reaction is significant, historians have not adequately focused on this event. Most importantly, Anschluss aided the passage of Roosevelt's naval rearmament program. The President also established an international organization responsible for Austrian refugees in the aftermath of the Austro-German Union. Though Roosevelt did not desire an unnecessary rift between Germany and the United States, Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes refused to sell helium to Germany, causing increased tension between Germany and the United States.
Roosevelt was a pragmatic and skillful politician. He knew the isolationists would not support a rift with Germany over Anschluss. Moreover, given the weak American economy, the State Department desired to continue normal economic relations with the Germans. Though Anschluss caused no sudden change in the foreign policy of the United States, Germany's annexation of Austria did affect and shape American policy. It compelled the United States to criticize the increasing lawlessness of Germany and formulate a foreign policy in order to respond more forcefully to Hitler's aggressive foreign policy. After Anschluss, Secretary of State Hull, in his National Press Club address, stated that America opposed international lawlessness and blind isolationism, supported rearmament and was ready to cooperate with governments who opposed blatant violators of treaties and human rights.
After Anschluss the American position evolved more clearly. Although the United States Congress remained strongly isolationist, the public began to take notice of Germany's aggressive expansionism and the press declared itself as overwhelmingly anti-German. The German-American relationship rapidly atrophied. America disliked German aggression and chastised Nazi disregard for international law. When reacting to Anschluss, the United States government tried to underscore these principles within the constraints of internal difficulties, and the opposition of a large anti-New Deal coalition and the isolationists. Roosevelt feared an isolationist backlash in unison with anti-New Deal Republicans and conservative Southern Democrats. However, as best expressed by Secretary of State Hull, the Administration was now ready to prepare the way for a more active United States foreign policy in order to meet the combined threat of Germany, Italy and Japan.
Tarner, Mark A., "The American Reaction to Germany's Annexation of Austria" (1986). Masters Theses. 2679.