Illusion and Necessity: The Diplomacy of Global War, 1939-1945

By John L. Snell | Go to book overview

PREFACE

Six years. What can they be in the long course of history? It all depends on which six years you mean.

The six years between 1939 and 1945 were more important for the American people than any similar period in their national experience except for those of the American Revolution and the Civil War. The changes they brought to Europe were more sweeping than any six-year period had brought in more than two centuries except for the era of the French Revolution and Napoleon and the years 1913-1919. The years of World War II profoundly altered the course of history in the Far East.

This book tells about the international politics of 1939-1945. Using the word somewhat loosely, it is a history of the "diplomacy" of the Second World War. The story told here supports the dictum of Karl von Clausewitz that war is "a continuation of political transactions intermingled with different means." It reveals a dramatic mixture of realism and illusion in the conduct of foreign policy by both sides. It clearly shows how the Cold War grew out of the Second World War and thus throws a great deal of light on the present, not least for Americans.

A fortune-favored past has conditioned many contemporary Americans to believe that nothing should check the national will of the United States; that problems arise for Americans only to be solved--and to be solved quickly, not to be lived with; that failures in international politics are the inexcusable results of either foolish or treasonous leadership. President John F. Kennedy was seeking in 1961 to sober Americans who think in these terms when he cautioned: "We are destined, all of us here today, to live out most, if not all, of our lives in uncertainty and challenge and peril." But no short speech could tell why the "rendezvous with destiny" that Franklin D. Roosevelt had prophesied in 1937 had turned out to be such a dismal one.

Large numbers of Americans, Europeans, and Orientals have

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