The American Age: United States Foreign Policy at Home and Abroad

By Walter Lafeber | Go to book overview

13
World War II: The Rise and Fall
of the Grand Alliance (1941-1945)

THE WASHINGTON CONFERENCE:
LAYING FOUNDATIONS IN THE GLOOM (1941-1942)

The most famous film of the early war years has become Casablanca, with Humphrey Bogart playing Rick Blaine, the American exile who owned a saloon in pro-Nazi French Morocco. The story takes place in 1941, just before the Pearl Harbor attack. U.S. audiences saw themselves when Rick is asked to help a leader of the anti-Nazi underground in Europe and snaps, "I stick my neck out for nobody." 1 It turns out, however, that, being a good American, the worldly Rick had already stuck his neck out: he had fought with the Ethiopians against the Italian invaders in 1935 and with the Spanish republic against Franco's fascists in 1936. And, in 1941, he finally agrees to save the life of the anti-Hitler underground agent. Americans, once aroused and fully committed, could not be distracted even by the beautiful Ingrid Bergman from risking their neck to defeat the Axis.

Casablanca's message reassured viewers, but in reality Americans seemed to have stuck out their neck too far by 1942-1943. They were trying to fight a worldwide, multifront war while suddenly having to deal with the most complex and far-reaching diplomatic decisions. No more had the Big Three (that is, the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union) joined to fight the war, than they began to argue

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