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Lend-Lease

Mutual-aid program among the various Allied powers during World War II, dominated mainly by U.S. material assistance to thirty-eight members of the wartime alliance. When World War II began in September 1939, the U.S. Neutrality Acts forbade the sale of American war matériel on anything other than a cash-and-carry basis. By autumn of 1940, with France out of the fight and the United Kingdom in dire straits and running short of supplies and assets, President Franklin Roosevelt realized the need to provide Britain with immediate assistance. Isolationist sentiment in the United States, however, dictated that Roosevelt not strike too munificent a deal. This led to Roosevelt's brilliant (and consciously misleading) analogy, first aired at a press conference on 17 December 1940, that America should temporarily loan Britain war goods in the same way that a person might loan a garden hose to a neighbor whose home was on fire.

The Lend-Lease bill became law on 11 March 1941. It remained in effect until August 1945, when President Harry Truman canceled the bulk of the program after the Japanese surrender, a decision that vexed the British government given its perilous economic condition and angered the Soviets, who had also relied heavily upon Lend-Lease aid.

Any firm dollar amount of the value of Lend-Lease aid is somewhat speculative, but during its lifetime the program is thought to have provided at least $50 billion in aid. About half of this amount was in the form of munitions, 22 percent in industrial goods, 13 percent in agricultural products, 5 percent in oil, and the remainder in services rendered (for example, the rental, maintenance, and repair of shipping). Lend-Lease aid reached its peak in 1944, when the United States delivered $15.1 billion in goods and services, or about 17 percent of the nation's entire war expenditures for that year. More than $30 billion in Lend-Lease aid went to the United Kingdom, with the Soviet Union receiving $11 billion, France $2.3 billion, and China $1.3 billion. The supply pipeline was not all one-way, however. The United States received $7.3 billion from the British and French, mostly in the form of technology transfers and raw materials.

The terms of Lend-Lease repayment were left to the discretion of the president, and Roosevelt had spoken only of a vague "gentlemen's agreement," with no firm conditions laid down. In December 1945 the United Kingdom reached a settlement with the United States to pay off $532 million in Lend-Lease obligations. The British government paid off the remainder of its Lend-Lease debt on 29 December 2006. Several billion dollars were supposed to be repaid by the Soviets at the end of hostilities, but the onset of the Cold War halted negotiations, and it was only in June 1990, under much different circumstances, that the United States and the USSR finally negotiated a settlement.

Alan Allport


Further Reading
Kimball, Warren F. The Most Unsordid Act: Lend-Lease, 1939–1941. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1969.; Office of the President. Twenty-Second Report to Congress on Lend-Lease Operations for the Period Ended December 31, 1945. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1946.
 

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