From Munich to Pearl Harbor : Roosevelt's America and the origins of the Second World War /
David Reynolds.
Chicago : Ivan R. Dee, c2001.
x, 209 p. ; 22 cm.
1566633893 (alk. paper)
More Details
series title
Chicago : Ivan R. Dee, c2001.
1566633893 (alk. paper)
catalogue key
Includes bibliographical references and index.
A Look Inside
About the Author
Author Affiliation
David Reynolds is a Fellow of Christ's College, Cambridge University.
First Chapter

Chapter One

On Histories and Historians

    On December 7, 1941, Japanese bombers surprised the U.S. Pacific fleet at its Hawaiian base at Pearl Harbor. Six of the eight battleships were sunk or damaged. More than 2,400 service personnel and civilians were killed. The day that "will live in infamy," as President Franklin D. Roosevelt called it, was a turning point in American history. Four years before, at the beginning of 1938, the United States was a country still mired in the Great Depression, with nearly a fifth of its workforce unemployed and investment at less than half the level of 1929. Congress had passed Neutrality Acts to prevent entanglement in another European war. Four years after Pearl Harbor, at the end of 1945, the United States accounted for half the world's manufacturing output and boasted the largest navy and air force in the world. It enjoyed a monopoly of atomic weapons, and U.S. troops occupied the ruined homelands of its vanquished enemies, Germany and Japan. The world's leading "superpower"--a word coined in 1944--was a far cry from the anxious, introverted America of 1938.

    This book has three main objectives. First, to provide a succinct narrative of the twisting road from Munich to Pearl Harbor, drawing on my own research and on recent scholarship. The chapters unfold chronologically, with an introductory section prefiguring the themes of each one, and the overall account is summarized in the first part of the conclusion. The story is partly about the transformation of American politics. By 1938 a loose but effective coalition of congressional conservatives had halted Roosevelt's New Deal. In 1939-1941 this coalition fractured over foreign policy. Slowly Roosevelt created a new political consensus, built around aid to Britain and its allies. This replaced the policy of hemisphere defense that in the mid-1930s had held sway. But domestic politics are only one side of the story. Roosevelt, Congress, and the American people were responding to some of the most dramatic changes in twentieth-century world history. U.S. foreign policy was revolutionized by Hitler's surprise victories in Europe in the spring of 1940, by his attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941, and by the devastating Japanese strikes across the Pacific and Southeast Asia in the following December. Together these campaigns transformed the European conflict that broke out in September 1939 into a truly global war.

    In retrospect that transformation is obvious. But at the time the interconnection of events seemed obscure, particularly to Americans accustomed to focus on what was called "the Western Hemisphere." Moreover, as we now know, the ties among the Axis powers--Germany, Italy, and Japan--were very tenuous. A second objective of the book is therefore to analyze how Roosevelt led Americans into a new global perspective on international relations. This involved both geopolitics (an expanded geography of U.S. security) and ideology (the assertion of U.S. principles of liberal, capitalist democracy). Against "hemispherism," FDR insisted with growing fervor that, in the age of airborne warfare, the world could and did threaten America, and that American values could and should transform the world. The two themes were interconnected, for the president argued that only in a world in which American values reigned supreme could the United States feel secure. This global perspective on international events was distinctively Rooseveltian. In the 1930s Americans (and Germans, though not the British) were used to talking about 1914-1918 as "the world war." But it was Franklin Roosevelt in 1941 who popularized the term "the second world war."

    Roosevelt's globalism proved to be a worldview of lasting significance. That brings me to the third main aim of the book, which is to spotlight developments in the period 1938-1941 that were later important for U.S. foreign and defense policy in the cold war era. Along with globalism, major themes included the articulation of the bipolar ideologies of "totalitarianism" and Americanism; the emergence of a military-industrial complex and the strategy of technowar; the origins of the "imperial presidency"; the precedent of a peacetime draft; a durable commitment to the security of Europe and the "Atlantic Area"; and, in contrast with the timidity of the depression, a growing belief in American omnipotence. In many general histories of American foreign policy, the origins of the cold war bulk so large as almost to obscure the origins of World War II. That seems to me unfortunate. By the end of 1941 many features of what would emerge as the "national security state" were already apparent in embryo, albeit applied to a very different enemy. Tracing the construction of America's second world war may help us understand the relative alacrity with which the United States after 1945 took on the role of a global superpower in a bipolar confrontation with the Soviet Union.

The early historiography of the approach to war was rooted in the great debate of 1940-1941 between those advocating aid to Britain and those who argued that this would turn the United States into a belligerent. The former stigmatized their opponents as "isolationists" while the latter, in turn, insisted that they were combating the "interventionists." More exactly, the two sides differed about where to draw the geographical line in U.S. security--around the Western Hemisphere, as noninterventionists generally argued, or on the other side of the Atlantic, according to the Roosevelt administration and its allies. By contrast, there was relatively little discussion or controversy about the increasingly firm U.S. policy toward Japanese expansion in Asia. Attention was concentrated on the European war, and traditional American stereotypes of the Old World and of European entanglements still exerted a powerful influence.

    The Pearl Harbor attack ended this political debate almost overnight. Although privately unrepentant, Roosevelt's opponents rallied around their commander-in-chief. After the war, however, the battle was rejoined. Authors of the major postwar revisionist critiques of Roosevelt's policies, such as the historians Charles A. Beard and Charles C. Tansill, had been open opponents before Pearl Harbor. On the other side were those whom Tansill called the "Court Historians"--writers who had been closely linked to the Roosevelt administration during and before the war. Among them were Robert E. Sherwood, one of FDR's speechwriters, who wrote the 1948 Pulitzer Prize-winning study of the president and his confidant, Harry Hopkins; Herbert Feis, a State Department official who published The Road to Pearl Harbor in 1950; and William L. Langer and S. Everett Gleason, whose massive two-volume Study of 1937 to 1941, The World Crisis and American Foreign Policy , appeared in 1952-1953. Langer and Gleason were professional historians who had both served in the State Department and in U.S. intelligence during the war. Their works, based on privileged access to official documents and on interviews with the leading policymakers, constituted a semi-official refutation of revisionism.

    The essentials of the revisionist case were twofold. First, Roosevelt had deceived the American people about the belligerent implications of his policies, often acting behind the back of Congress. According to some extreme accounts, he had even allowed the Pearl Harbor attack to happen, using it (in Tansill's title) as the Back Door to War . Second, this had been an unnecessary war. Revisionists claimed that throughout the period up to December 1941 there had been no serious and immediate threat to U.S. interests or security. In their view, hemisphere defense, backed by prudent rearmament, remained an adequate policy.

    In general, public debate in the United States has run against the revisionists. Pearl Harbor ended the political argument; Auschwitz settled the moral argument. After 1945 most Americans were convinced that they had fought a just and necessary war. By the 1970s many looked back on it, in Studs Terkel's phrase, as the "good war," in contrast to the moral uncertainties and popular divisions that poisoned the conflict in Vietnam. In the 1990s it became the heroic war, its participants celebrated in movies such as Saving Private Ryan and consecrated by TV anchorman Tom Brokaw as "the greatest generation any society has produced." Underpinning this consensus was the overwhelming reality of the cold war--understood as a global struggle of power and ideology against the forces of international communism, spearheaded by the Soviet Union. The war had turned the United States into a "superpower," into the self-styled guardian of the "Free World." While grumbling about the cost, most Americans accepted these roles as axiomatic. And the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the Soviet Union itself in 1989-1991 served to vindicate those assumptions. The Good War and the Cold War made the No War debate of 1940-1941 seem like a stupid irrelevance.

    From this perspective, assuming the essential rightness of U.S. belligerency against Germany and Japan, the debate shifted to means rather than ends, to the appropriateness of Roosevelt's actions in 1940--1941. There were two related strands--policies and politics. On policies, Robert Divine and Arnold Offner were among several historians who portrayed FDR as a 1930s isolationist, inclined to appeasement, who painfully metamorphosed into an interventionist between Munich and Pearl Harbor. According to Divine in 1969, "Roosevelt pursued an isolationist policy out of genuine conviction," and in 1941 his "deep-seated aversion to war still paralyzed" his conduct of affairs. Historians have also examined Roosevelt's political tactics, his conception of presidential leadership. Biographer James MacGregor Burns wrote that the president "seemed beguiled by public opinion," preferring to "wait on events" rather than give a clear lead. Divine detected a pattern of "two steps forward, one step back" whenever the president made a major move. By contrast, Robert Dallek, in his comprehensive study of FDR's foreign policy from 1932 to 1945, depicted a fairly consistent internationalist who was obliged by the strength of public opinion to conform to the nationalist and isolationist mood of the 1930s. According to Dallek, writing in 1979, FDR's "appreciation that effective action abroad required a reliable consensus at home and his use of dramatic events overseas to win national backing from a divided country were among the great presidential achievements of this century."

    The debate about FDR's policies and politics enlarged in the 1980s in two ways. One was by moving away from the president himself to look at key advisers such as Sumner Welles, at parts of the government bureaucracy, as in Jonathan Utley's study of the State Department and Japan, or at the plasticity of political opinion--the theme of Thomas Guinsburg's study of isolationism in the Senate. This body of work suggested that the main barriers to a coherent and decisive foreign policy lay within the administration as much as outside it. A second development was the opening of key foreign archives, particularly in Britain. Several major studies of Anglo-American relations in this period shed light from new sources on this opaque president. They showed the extent of secret U.S. entanglement with Britain long before Pearl Harbor, but also the president's ambivalence about his covert ally. This British material informed more general accounts written during the 1980s. To Frederick W. Marks it helped show that the president was parochial in outlook and indecisive in style, ever prone "to substitute words for action." By contrast, Waldo Heinrich's interpretation of FDR's global policy during 1941 presented Roosevelt as "an active and purposeful maker of foreign policy, the only figure with all the threads in his hands." Warren Kimball, in a collection of essays on FDR's diplomacy, acknowledged wishful thinking, devious tactics, and a "debonair administrative style" but found a "broader consistency that shaped his policies" at the level of "assumptions."

    To a large extent, therefore, the presidential paradigm holds sway. The debate keeps returning to Roosevelt, usually within the terms set by the orthodox consensus that this was a good war that the United States entered for justifiable ends, albeit by slightly dubious means.

    On the other hand, the two main streams of revisionism remain a continuing undercurrent. Pearl Harbor still attracts conspiracy theorists. During the 1990s, after the end of the cold war, the opening of U.S. and British intelligence archives prompted a new round of charges and rebuttals about the foreknowledge of Roosevelt (and Churchill) concerning the Japanese attack. Meanwhile the extensive research of Wayne Cole, Justus Doenecke, and others has given a clearer sense of the noninterventionists. Earlier work in this area had concentrated on the ethnic or regional basis for "isolationism"--implicitly the problem was to explain deviation from a mainstream internationalist consensus. These more recent studies looked at the intellectual arguments used by noninterventionists, seeking to show both their complexity and plausibility. The proponents of hemisphere defense, who included two future U.S. presidents, John F. Kennedy and Gerald R. Ford, cannot simply be dismissed as obscurantists or closet Nazis.

    Some scholars, such as Bruce Russett, Melvin Small, and John A. Thompson, have moved this discussion of noninterventionism onto a more general plane. In the title of Russett's interpretive essay, published in 1972, they argue that there was No Clear and Present Danger in security terms to justify Roosevelt's increasingly belligerent policies. Russett was an erstwhile supporter of FDR who found that his growing doubts about U.S. intervention in Vietnam knocked over "a row of intellectual dominoes" running right back to Pearl Harbor. Vietnam also strengthened the "New Left" critique of U.S. internationalism and prompted several studies of Roosevelt's policy from this angle. Rather than a defensive concern with security, they emphasized an ideology of economic expansion. Lloyd Gardner's pioneering Economic Aspects of New Deal Diplomacy (1964) highlighted the concern of the depression generation for the survival of capitalism at home and abroad. This became an all-embracing interpretation of U.S. policy from 1937 to 1941 in Patrick Hearden's Roosevelt Confronts Hitler (1987).

    Like all historians, I stand on the shoulders of others. This book takes seriously both the domestic and the international pressures on U.S. foreign policy, focusing on Roosevelt but also trying to set him in bureaucratic and political context. Equally, like any historian, I am influenced by my time and place. If the omnipresence of the cold war led most scholars to accept U.S. globalism as axiomatic, so the end of the cold war enables us to recognize the novelty of this worldwide superpower role. And the recent intellectual anatomy of noninterventionism reminds us that alternatives to Roosevelt's emerging worldview were well entrenched and prods us to ask why and how they were displaced.

    International events in 1940 and 1941 undoubtedly shook the foundations of contemporary thinking. In many ways this period was the "fulcrum" of the twentieth century, the turning point in the endgame of the old Europe-centered order. But an awareness of global crisis was not the same as a recognition of world war. Roosevelt's carefully crafted speeches joined up the dots of disparate events into an interconnected pattern, which he popularized in 1941 as "the second world war." And his distinctive responses to global crisis--undeclared war in the Atlantic and undesired war in the Pacific, the origins of the "imperial presidency" and the foundations of the military-industrial complex--shaped U.S. foreign policy during the conflict of 1941-1945 and long after. In short, it is time for World War II to reemerge from its cold war eclipse. America's approach to the Soviet Union after 1945 owed much to the attitudes and practices established as Roosevelt moved his country from "neutrality" to "world war" between 1938 and 1941.

Excerpted from FROM MUNICH TO PEARL HARBOR by David Reynolds. Copyright © 2001 by David Reynolds. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Choice on 2002-02-01:
Between the Munich Conference and the attack on Pearl Harbor, the history of the US changed forever. Reynolds (Christ's Church College, Cambridge) describes the transformation of the US during the years 1938-41 and the unforeseen, long-range effects of these events on the nation as Franklin D. Roosevelt sought to change the American view of foreign relations and reverse the isolationism of 1937-38. Using the most recent scholarship, Reynolds traces the torturous path Roosevelt followed as he sought to aid Britain without incurring the wrath of Congress. At the same time, he tried to prepare the American people for war, and to deal, not always successfully, with the machinations of the Japanese government. It was Roosevelt who originated the concept of "a Second World War." Finally, the author develops the thesis that Roosevelt's revolution in foreign policy, 1938-41, contained the key concepts that would figure prominently in the Cold War. Ironically, Roosevelt disliked the site and design of the Pentagon and hoped that after the war it would be used for storage. An important book recommended for all library collections. K. Eubank emeritus, CUNY Queens College
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2001-07-09:
Cambridge University fellow Reynolds (One World Divisible: A Global History Since 1945) provides a succinct, accurate account of FDR's rhetoric and policy decisions that positioned America for war in the days between Chamberlain's disastrous 1938 Munich agreement and the attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Despite its brevity, this workmanlike book catalogues FDR's efforts to "educate" America's overwhelmingly isolationist electorate to the need for the U.S. to play a high-profile role in evolving world events. At the same time, it gives a fair Cliffs Notes-style summary of FDR's work to support anti-Axis governments up until the time American sentiment swung around to favor intervention, adopting the Lend-Lease bill to re-arm Britain and loosening the constraints of the Neutrality Act. Reynolds posits that America's eventual role in the war set the stage for the nation to become a leader in the postwar confrontation with world Communism. Serious scholars will quibble with at least one aspect of Reynolds's approach. While stating that his book "is rooted" in his "own primary research, particularly in the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library (Hyde Park, N.Y.), and in the National Archives and Library of Congress," Reynolds does not favor readers with detailed source notes and instead provides a bibliographical essay focused entirely on published sources, not one of which is linked directly (through footnotes or otherwise) to any of the numerous quotations in the book. (Sept. 7) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review Quotes
A cogent narrative of the evolution of American foreign policy and how the policies adopted continue to affect twenty-first century America.
A compact, well written, useful account.
Fresh, concise, solidly integrating some of the most important scholarship of the past generation...truly fascinating.
Brilliant...Reynolds's lucid and incisive analysis puts the impact of the Second World War in an illuminating new perspective.
A concise account...provides the most up-to-date information on Roosevelt and the origins of the Second World War.
This item was reviewed in:
Booklist, June 2001
Publishers Weekly, July 2001
Reference & Research Book News, November 2001
Choice, February 2002
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Long Description
Four years before Pearl Harbor, the United States had turned in on itself, mired in the Great Depression and fearing entanglement in another European war. Four years after Pearl Harbor, it accounted for half the world's economic output and boasted a navy and air force second to none. The period from 1938 to 1941, David Reynolds argues in his brilliant new book, was a turning point in modern American history. Drawing upon his own research and the latest scholarship, Mr. Reynolds shows how Franklin Roosevelt led Americans into a new global perspective on foreign policy, one based on geopolitics and ideology. FDR insisted that in an age of airpower, U.S. security required allies far beyond the Western Hemisphere, and that in an era of dictatorships, American values could and should transform the world. Months before Pearl Harbor, he had popularized the term "second world war." Mr. Reynolds, in his succinct overview of American foreign policy from Munich to Pearl Harbor, shows how the president used his new perspective in responding to international shocks ”the fall of France, Hitler's invasion of Russia, Japan's drive into Southeast Asia. But one of the signal accomplishments of From Munich to Pearl Harbor is also to explain how the main features of America's cold war posture (following World War II) were established in the years before the war ”a new globalism, a bipolar worldview, the foundations of the military-industrial complex, and the origins of the "imperial presidency." New in the American Ways Series.
Main Description
Reynolds shows how Franklin Roosevelt led Americans into a new global perspective on foreign policy, one based on geopolitics and ideology.
Publisher Fact Sheet
A new explanation of America's entry into World War II. New in the American Ways Series.
Unpaid Annotation
A master historianUs provocative new interpretation of FDR's role in the coming of World War II. RBrilliant.SQArthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. American Ways Series.
Long Description
A master historian's provocative new interpretation of FDR's role in the coming of World War II. Brilliant. --Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. American Ways Series.
Table of Contents
Acknowledgmentsp. ix
On Histories and Historiansp. 3
Roosevelt's America and an Alien Worldp. 12
Empire, ideology, and economics
American distinctiveness
Roosevelt: "Pinpricks and righteous protests"
Revising Neutrality and Ideology (October 1938 to November 1939)p. 41
Toward armed unneutrality
Democracy and totalitarianism
Stalemate in Asia
Unneutrality in thought and deed
Redefining Politics and Geopolitics (December 1939 to November 1940)p. 69
Twilight of peace
The fall of France
Destroyers for Britain, Deterrence for Japan
Public opinion and the election campaign
Abandoning Cash and Carry (December 1940 to May 1941)p. 102
The Roosevelt Doctrine
The great debate on lend-lease
The changing relationship with Britain
The Atlantic crisis
Projecting American Power and Values (June to December 1941)p. 133
The Soviet Union and the global crisis
The "first summit" and the Atlantic Charter
Stalemate in the Atlantic
Countdown in the Pacific
World war
From Munich to Pearl Harborp. 171
A Note on Sourcesp. 191
Indexp. 201
Table of Contents provided by Syndetics. All Rights Reserved.

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