Roosevelt attacks Nazi ‘piracy’ in the Atlantic

The incident involving the destroyer USS Greer prompted Roosevelt to change US terms of engagement at sea.

When You See a Rattlesnake Poised to Strike, You Do Not Wait Until He Has Struck Before You Crush Him

There had been claim and counter-claim following the attack on the USS Greer on the 4th September. President Roosevelt’s interpretation of events now featured in a radio broadcast to the nation on the 11th:

The United States destroyer, when attacked, was proceeding on a legitimate mission.

If the destroyer was visible to the submarine when the torpedo was fired, then the attack was a deliberate attempt by the Nazis to sink a clearly identified American warship. On the other hand, if the submarine was beneath the surface and, with the aid of its listening devices, fired in the direction of the sound of the American destroyer without even taking the trouble to learn its identity – as the official German communique would indicate – then the attack was even more outrageous. For it indicates a policy of indiscriminate violence against any vessel sailing the seas, belligerent or non-belligerent.

This was piracy-legally and morally. It was not the first nor the last act of piracy which the Nazi government has committed against the American flag in this war. Attack has followed attack.

He went on to announce what became known as the shoot on sight policy:

The time for active defense is now.

Do not let us split hairs. Let us not say: “We will only defend ourselves if the torpedo succeeds in getting home, or if the crew and the passengers are drowned.”

This is the time for prevention of attack.

If submarines or raiders attack in distant waters, they can attack equally well within sight of our own shores. Their very presence in any waters which America deems vital to its defense constitutes an attack.

In the waters which we deem necessary for our defense, American naval vessels and American planes will no longer wait until Axis submarines lurking under the water, or Axis raiders on the surface of the sea, strike their deadly blow — first.

Upon our naval and air patrol — now operating in large number over a vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean — falls the duty of maintaining the American policy of freedom of the seas — now. That means, very simply, very clearly, that our patrolling vessels and planes will protect all merchant ships — not only American ships but ships of any flag — engaged in commerce in our defensive waters. They will protect them from submarines; they will protect them from surface raiders.

Read the whole address at USMM.

On the very same day Charles Lindburgh was making a speech in Iowa arguing against United States involvement in any war.

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