Diplomatic Ramifications of Unrestricted Submarine Warfare, 1939-1941

Diplomatic Ramifications of Unrestricted Submarine Warfare, 1939-1941

Diplomatic Ramifications of Unrestricted Submarine Warfare, 1939-1941

Diplomatic Ramifications of Unrestricted Submarine Warfare, 1939-1941

Synopsis

Manson considers the political, economic, legal, and military rationale for the United States' decision on December 7, 1941, to adopt a policy of unrestricted submarine warfare, reversing its previous foreign policy that had centered on the "freedom of the seas" concept. Germany's rejection of this policy had been one of the chief reasons for U.S. entry into World War I. The volume provides multinational perspectives based on multiarchival research, incorporating much previously unavailable historical material.

Excerpt

On December 7, 1941, the United States elected to conduct unrestricted submarine warfare. This decision proved a watershed in U.S. foreign policy because it represented a dramatic reversal of the long-standing policy of defending freedom of the seas and because the decision provided the precedent and rationale for using advanced weapons technology against noncombatants. Throughout World War I, the Wilson administration insisted that German submarines observe customary rules of international law, requiring a man-of-war to give notice to a merchantman of its intent to board to determine from the ship's papers whether its cargo contained contraband of war. If contraband were found, the safety of the ship's crew and passengers was to be assured regardless of the process for disposing of the contraband. Subsequent American administrations upheld this policy until December 1941, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. At this point, the United States not only adopted unrestricted submarine warfare (i.e., the destruction of all vessels entering a designated war zone), but justified it with the same rationale Germany had used in 1917. Ironically, the United States had entered World War I largely because of German unrestricted submarine warfare. No other foreign policy reversal in U.S. history quite matches in magnitude its decision to abandon this position. In other words, the United States had never before adopted a policy which had been one of the chief provocations for a global war against another power.

This study examines the origins of the German and American decisions for unrestricted submarine warfare during World War II by using both military and political archival materials from West Germany and the United States. The work relies heavily on extensive archival research conducted in both countries, incorporating material recently released in archives in this country and gathered from various archives and libraries in West Germany, when the latter material is unavailable here. The sources consulted have not been accessible to scholars who . . .

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