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#188: As War in Europe Expands, US Continues the Policy of Neutrality

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President Franklin Roosevelt during a "Fireside Chat" broadcast in Washington, DC
President Franklin Roosevelt during a "Fireside Chat" broadcast in Washington, DC

STEVE EMBER: Welcome to THE MAKING OF A NATION - American history in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember.

(MUSIC)

Germany's attack on Poland and the start of World War Two in Europe presented a problem for Americans in September of nineteen-thirty-nine. The United States -- by law -- was neutral. And few Americans had any desire to fight in another world war. But most Americans did not like Germany's Nazi leader, Adolf Hitler. They hoped for victory for Britain, France and the other Allied powers.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt made this clear in a radio broadcast to Americans soon after the war began.

PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT: "The overwhelming masses of our people seek peace. Peace at home, and the kind of peace in other lands, which will not jeopardize our peace at home. We have certain ideas, and certain ideals, of national safety, and we must act to preserve that safety today and to preserve the safety of our children in future years. That safety is, and will be, bound up with the safety of the Western Hemisphere and of the seas adjacent thereto. We seek to keep war from our own firesides by keeping war from coming to the Americas."

German armored vehicles advancing to Poland in September of 1939
German armored vehicles advancing to Poland in September of 1939

STEVE EMBER: He praised the British and other allies. Finally, the president called on Congress to change the neutrality laws that prevented him from sending arms to the allies to help them fight Germany. Congress agreed to change the laws so foreign nations could buy American arms.

(MUSIC)

In the months that followed, Hitler and his allies claimed one victory after another. German and Soviet troops captured Poland quickly in September of nineteen thirty-nine. Then Soviet forces invaded the small Baltic nations of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania.

In late November, they attacked Finland. Fighting between Finland and the Soviet Union continued through the winter, until Finland accepted Russia's demands.

Fighting grew even more fierce the following spring, in nineteen forty. Germany attacked Denmark and Norway, defeating them easily. In May, German forces struck like lightning through Belgium and Holland. Within one day, they were in France.

British and French forces were unable to stop the Germans from moving deep into northern France. The British finally had to flee from the European continent. They sailed back to Britain from the French town of Dunkirk.

(SOUND)

German soldiers marched through France. And Italian forces joined them by invading France from the south. Soon, Paris fell.

(SOUND)

These are German newsreel narrators describing German troops entering Paris and the fall of the French government.

A German supporter, Marshal Petain, took control of the French government. And France -- beaten and crushed -- was forced to sign a peace treaty with Hitler.

Now it was just Britain alone against Hitler and his Axis allies. Only the English Channel separated the British people from a German army that seemed unbeatable.

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was forced to resign. The British people turned to a new leader, Winston Churchill.

WINSTON CHURCHILL: "I speak to you for the first time as Prime Minister in a solemn hour for the life of our country, of our empire, of our allies, and, above all, of the cause of freedom. A tremendous battle is raging in France and Flanders. The Germans, by a remarkable combination of air bombing and heavily armored tanks, have broken through the French defenses north of the Maginot Line, and strong columns of their armored vehicles are ravaging the open country, which for the first day or two was without defenders. They have penetrated deeply and spread alarm and confusion in their track."

Winston Churchill in 1940
Winston Churchill in 1940

STEVE EMBER: Churchill would prove to be strong and brave in the long months ahead.

(SOUND)

The British would need strong leadership.

Hitler wasted no time in launching a fierce air attack on Britain. Throughout the summer, German and British planes fought above the English Channel.

All this military action had an important effect on American popular opinion. War and neutrality were no longer just ideas to be discussed and debated. Now they were real concerns, real events. Fascist troops led by a dictator in Berlin were defeating one friendly democracy after another. And Soviet forces were on the march, too.

Most Americans still wanted neutrality. But how long could America remain at peace? And was peace worth the cost of just sitting by and watching friends like France and Britain being bombed and invaded?

Other issues melted away as Americans began to consider what to do about the darkening world situation.

Some Americans, led by newspaper publisher William Allen White, called for the United States to help Britain immediately. But other groups, like the America First Committee, demanded that the United States stay out of another bloody European conflict.

The struggle between those who wanted to help Britain and those who wanted to remain neutral did not follow traditional party lines. Some of the strongest supporters of Roosevelt's foreign policies were Republicans. Some members of his own Democratic Party opposed his policies.

Even so, foreign policy was one of the main issues in the presidential election campaign of nineteen forty. The Democrats once again nominated Franklin Roosevelt for president.

The Republicans had several popular candidates who were interested in campaigning against Roosevelt. At first, it seemed that these candidates would fight it out in a bitter nominating convention in Philadelphia. But to everyone's surprise, a little-known candidate named Wendell Willkie suddenly gained a great deal of support and won the nomination.

WENDELL WILKIE: "...building of an adequate defense, so that no dictator, however strong, may seek the strife or the unity of our people. We're calling America again to its great tradition of progress.  I pledge myself to you, and I ask each of you to join with me in this great crusade."

STEVE EMBER: Willkie was a tough candidate.

He was friendly, a good businessman, and a strong speaker. He seemed honest. And he seemed to understand foreign policy. Most importantly, Willkie had a progressive record on many social issues. He was not the kind of traditional conservative Republican that Roosevelt had defeated so easily in his first two campaigns.

Instead, Willkie could claim to represent the average American just as well as Roosevelt. And he offered the excitement of a change in leadership.

(SOUND)

STEVE EMBER: While Roosevelt and Willkie began their campaign battles with words, German and British planes were fighting real battles with bullets over the English Channel. Winston Churchill sent a desperate message to Roosevelt. The British prime minister said Britain could not fight alone much longer. It needed help immediately.

Roosevelt did not want to take steps toward war just before an election. But neither could he refuse such an urgent appeal from the British leader.

Roosevelt and Willkie discussed the situation. Willkie agreed not to criticize Roosevelt when the president sent fifty ships to the British navy. He also supported Roosevelt's order for American young men to give their names to army officials so they could be called up if fighting began.

In this way, Roosevelt and Willkie tried to keep America's growing involvement in the war from becoming a major political issue in the election.

President Roosevelt won the election of nineteen forty. He won twenty-seven million votes to twenty-two million for Willkie. This made Roosevelt the first and only president in American history to win a third term in the White House. The Constitution was later changed to limit presidents to two terms.

(MUSIC)

Soon after the election, President Roosevelt received a letter from Winston Churchill. The British prime minister wrote that Britain urgently needed more arms and planes to fight Germany.

Roosevelt agreed. He went to the Congress to plead for more aid to Britain. He said the United States should change its neutral policy, because Britain was fighting a common enemy of democracy. Roosevelt also said the United States could avoid war if Britain was strong enough to defeat Germany by itrself.

Congress agreed, after a fierce debate, to increase aid to Britain. And in the weeks and months that followed, the United States moved closer and closer to open war with Germany.

In March of nineteen forty-one, Roosevelt allowed British ships to come to American ports to be repaired. In June, the United States seized ships under German control. It also took over German and Italian funds in American banks.

(MUSIC)

Open fighting could not be prevented with this increase in tension between Germany and the United States. In September nineteen forty-one, a German submarine fired at an American ship. The ship was not damaged. But a number of American troops were killed in other naval incidents that followed.

By the end of nineteen forty-one, the United States and Germany were almost at war. Even so, most Americans continued to hope for peace. In fact, few Americans could guess that war was just days away. The first blow would come -- not from Germany, however, but from Japan.

RADIO ANNOUNCER: "We interrupt this program to bring you a special news bulletin: The Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii by air, President Roosevelt has just announced."

STEVE EMBER: That will be our story next week.

(MUSIC)

Our program was written by David Jarmul. You can find our series online with transcripts, MP3s, podcasts and pictures at www.unsv.com. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter at VOA Learning English. I'm Steve Ember inviting you to join us again next week for THE MAKING OF A NATION - American history in VOA Special English.

____________________________

This was program number 188

1939年9月德国进攻波兰,第二次世界大战在欧洲爆发,给美国带来了一个现实的问题。从法律上说,美国是一个中立国,而且没有几个美国人愿意参加另一场世界大战。

但是,绝大多数美国人不喜欢德国纳粹领袖希特勒,他们希望英国、法国和其他同盟国能够胜利。二战爆发后不久富兰克林.罗斯福总统所发表的一次广播讲话充分说明了这一点。

罗斯福总统:"美国绝大多数人寻求和平,寻求国内和平,也寻求别国和平,从而不会使美国国内和平受到威胁。我们有着坚定的信念,确保国家安全的坚定信念,我们不仅要采取行动,保卫今天的安全,而且还要保证我们子孙后代的安全。这一安全是与西半球及其海域的安全密切联系在一起的。我们不能让战火烧到美国,从而让我们的家园免受战火的涂炭。"

他赞扬英国和其他同盟国,并要求国会修改美国的中立法,因为中立法阻止他向盟国出售武器对抗德国。国会同意修改中立法,因此,允许外国向美国购买武器。

在此后的几个月里,希特勒及其盟友取得了一个又一个的胜利。1939年9月,德国和苏联迅速占领波兰。苏联随后入侵波罗的海几个小国----拉脱维亚、爱沙尼亚和立陶宛。11月下旬,苏联又进攻芬兰,芬兰与苏联整整打了一个冬天,芬兰最终接受了俄国人的要求。

1940年春天,战争越发猛烈。德国入侵丹麦和挪威,轻而易举地击败了丹麦和挪威的抵抗。5月,德国闪电般直捣比利时和荷兰,一天之内,德国军队就进入了法国,英法军队无力抵抗德军在法国北部的纵深推进,英国最后不得不逃离欧洲大陆,从法国北部的敦克尔克镇逃回英国。

德国士兵深入法国,意大利军队也从南部,加入到对法国的侵略。很快,巴黎沦陷了。德国的支持者----马歇尔.贝当接管法国政府,被德国击败和蹂躏的法国被迫与希特勒签署了和平条约。

如今,整个欧洲只剩下英国单独对抗德国和他的轴心国,也只有英吉利海峡阻挡了英国人免受德军的进攻。英国首相张伯伦被迫辞职,英国人选择了一位新领导人,他就是温斯顿.丘吉尔。

温斯顿.丘吉尔说:"在我们的国家、我们的帝国、我们的盟友,和自由面临危机的紧要关头,我作为英国首相,第一次向你们发表讲话。一场激烈战斗正在法国和佛兰德斯地区进行。德国利用其强大的空中轰炸和地面重型坦克,已经击溃了法国的马其诺防线,德国的装甲车轮打开了法国的大门,头一两天内法国就失去了防卫能力。德军纵深推进,所到之处,一片混乱恐慌。"

在未来的岁月里,丘吉尔将向人们证明他的坚强和勇敢。英国人需要一位强势的领导人。希特勒毫不犹豫,立即向英国发动空袭。整个夏天,英德两国飞机在英吉利海峡上空激战。

英德空战对美国舆论产生了重大影响,战争与中立不再只是讨论或争辩,大家真切感受到了战争与他们的关系,真切感受到了战争之存在。柏林独裁者领导的法西斯军队正击败一个又一个友好的民主国家,苏联军队也在不断地进攻。

纳粹德国对欧洲发动猛烈攻击的同时,大多数美国人仍然希望继续保持中立,但美国还能维持多久的和平呢?而且,眼睁睁看着法国和英国这些友好的国家遭受猛烈的轰炸和侵略,这样的和平值得吗?

美国人开始考虑如果面对如此黑暗的世界局势,其他问题似乎不那么重要了。以报纸发行人艾伦.怀特为首的一些美国人呼吁美国立即向英国提供援助。但其他一些人,如美国第一委员会,则要求美国继续置身于血腥的欧洲冲突之外。

在帮助英国还是保持中立的问题上,两派阵营并没有沿袭传统的党派分界。罗斯福外交政策的一些坚定支持者是共和党人,而罗斯福自己的民主党内却有不少人反对他的外交政策。

外交政策也是1940年美国总统大选的一个主要话题。民主党再次提名富兰克林.罗斯福为总统候选人。共和党有好几位候选人有意参选。起初看来,共和党这几个候选人似乎要在费城的提名大会上激烈较量。但出人意料的是,一位名不见经传的候选人突然获得了很多人的支持,得到了总统候选人的提名,他就是温德尔.威尔基。

威尔基是一个很强势的候选人,他很友好,是一名出色的商人,优秀的演说家。他为人似乎诚实,而且又了解对外政策。最为重要的是,威尔基在许多社会问题上都主张变革。

他和前两次被罗斯福轻松击败的共和党总统候选人不一样。威尔基声称,他跟罗斯福一样,代表普通美国人。选他,会给领导层带来变化。

就在罗斯福与威尔基唇枪舌战,展开总统竞选活动时,德国与英国则在英吉利海峡上空真枪实弹地交战。丘吉尔向罗斯福发出紧急救助。丘吉尔说,英国单枪匹马已经撑不了多久了,需要立即得到帮助。罗斯福在大选前不想采取任何行动,但他也无法拒绝英国领导人的紧急求助。

罗斯福和威尔基讨论此事。威尔基同意,罗斯福向英国海军提供50艘船只,他不会对此提出批评。威尔基还支持罗斯福下达命令,要求美国年轻人向军方报名。一旦战争打响,就应召入伍。

罗斯福和威尔基用这种方式,努力让美国逐步介入战争,而又不会成为选举中的重要政治话题。罗斯福赢得了1940年总统大选,他以2700万对2200万的选票击败威尔基,使罗斯福成为美国历史上第一位也是唯一一位三次连任总统的人。美国宪法后来规定,一个人只能连任两任总统。

美国总统大选后不久,罗斯福总统就接到了丘吉尔的来信,信中说,英国急需美国提供更多的武器和飞机,以便对抗德国。罗斯福同意了。他前往国会,要求向英国提供更多的援助。

他说,美国应该改变中立政策,因为英国正在与民主的共同敌人作战。罗斯福还说,如果英国足以对付德国的话,美国就可以避免战争。国会经过激烈辩论后,同意增加对英国的援助。在随后几个月里,美国越来越接近向德国开战。

1941年3月,罗斯福允许英国军舰到美国港口停泊维修,6月,美国扣押了一些由德国控制的船只,并接管了德国和意大利在美国银行里的资产。

随着德国与美国紧张局势不断升温,两国开战已是不可避免。1941年9月,一艘德国潜艇向一艘美国船只开火,美国船只没有受伤,但在此后的几起海上事件中,美国军人出现伤亡。到1941年底,美国和德国已几乎处于开战状态。

尽管如此,大多数美国人仍然希望保持和平。事实上,没有几个美国人能预料到,不久后战争就要打响了。然而,对美国的第一次打击,并非来自德国,而是来自日本。

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