Nazi Germany occupied Western Europe. Japanese forces were expanding across Asia. Many Americans became convinced that the United States faced grave threats. Were we ready? Early in 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress to extend the term of military service. But draftees, conscripted for one year, wanted to finish and go home. Could America afford to let them go?
"Things are changing fast," observed the new House Speaker, Sam Rayburn of Texas, "and matters are becoming more complicated and dangerous every day." As the Senate passed an 18-month extension for draftees, Rayburn lobbied House members to go along. That August, in a roll call vote, the extension squeaked through the House by one vote, 203–202. Four months later, Japanese planes bombed Pearl Harbor. America was at war.
"The responsibility rests solely with the Congress."
—President Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1941