America and the Origins of World War II, 1933-1941: New Perspectives in History

By Arnold A. Offner | Go to book overview

V The Axis and Aggression, 1941

Politicians and diplomats usually think they control events, and people usually hold their government officials to a standard of "strict accountability." While men, especially government officials, must of course be held responsible for their actions and their results, the fact is that the web of intentions and causality is extremely complex and tangled. Historians have often found that events moved faster than men assumed and in ways that were not understood at the time. This is demonstrated in Part V, which consists of excerpts from three chapters ( "America and the World Triangle," "Germany, the United States and Japanese Expansion," and "Germany and Pearl Harbor") in James V. Compton The Swastika and the Eagle ( 1967), Louis Morton's "Japan's Decision for War" ( 1959), and Raymond Esthus' "President Roosevelt's Commitment to Britain to Intervene in a Pacific War" ( 1963). Compton shows in fascinating detail how Hitler sought to use the September 1940 Tripartite Pact with Japan as a means to prevent American intervention in the European war, while the Japanese used the pact for their own purposes in the Far East, and how German policy, designed to "bluff" the United States into acquiescence, served only to confirm "Axis aggression" in American eyes and encourage Japan to be reckless in its policy toward the United States. In ways that German geopoliticians did not understand, they achieved results opposite those they thought they were pursuing, and shared responsibility for bringing about the Pearl Harbor assault. Morton explains how the Japanese Army and Navy from 1936 on were able to make their ambitions, objectives, and policies those of the national government, and why the Japanese took the gamble of attacking American territory in the Pacific. By 1941, Morton concludes, the Japanese tragically believed that the alternative to war was internal collapse, and that they and their opponent, the United States, would or could fight a limited war. Finally, Esthus deals with the American side of the dilemma over war in the Pacific: what would be the American commitment if Japan attacked only British or Dutch territory or Thailand? Esthus shows that Roosevelt never answered the question, but that he

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America and the Origins of World War II, 1933-1941: New Perspectives in History
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Contents iii
  • I - The Old Historical Debate 1
  • II - The Consensus on Appeasement, 1933-1938 25
  • III - Between Peace and War, 1939-1941 77
  • IV - The Nuances of Negotiations, 1941 125
  • V - The Axis and Aggression, 1941 157
  • Suggestions for Further Reading 222
  • List of Persons 227
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