Friday, March 22, 2013

Reluctant Belligerent

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The Reluctant Belligerent is the story of American diplomacy leading up to her entrance in the second world war. It details the actions of the American government as it struggled to maintain peace without taking any direct military action. The United States made a great effort to avoid war at all costs, and thus is Robert Divine’s premise; as is clearly stated in the following quote “Thus to the very end, the pattern of American reaction to events abroad held true. From the first signs of aggression in the 10s to the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States refused to act until there was no choice.” (158).

The book begins with Roosevelt’s first inaugural address in which he dismissed America’s role in foreign affairs and promised to pull the country out of its grave depression. The Americans of this time held similar views. They no longer had any specific goals in their foreign policy beyond their naive desire to live and let live. However, this policy would be fruitless soon, when Hitler came to power in 1. He soon denounced the disarmament clauses in the Treaty of Versailles, and proclaimed that he would maintain a standing army of 550,000 men. This dramatic display of diplomatic strength from Hitler, greatly annoyed a fellow dictator, Benito Mussolini. He thought himself to be the ideal fascist statesmen, and eagerly pursued triumphs of his own. He wished to carve an empire in eastern Africa.

German rearmament and Italian aggression finally awakened Americans to dangers more perilous than the depression. There was a national consensus that involvement in the upcoming war must be avoided, but a clear-cut policy of how to do so would be the topic of bitter debates for five years. Finally, an internationalist by the name of Charles Warren created the blueprint that would insure American abstention from the inevitable European war. His plan stated that instead of following America’s traditional neutral rights policy, that a legislation be passed to forbid arms exports to belligerent states, to ban loans by private bankers to governments at war, and to prevent American citizens from traveling on belligerent ships. After many alterations, a form of the above plan was passed as the Neutrality Act of 15.

Just weeks after it was passed, the act came under its first test. On October , 15, Italy had invaded Ethiopia without any formal warning. The United States recognized a state of war between Italy and Ethiopia, and imposed the restrictions of their recent Neutrality Act on the two countries. These restrictions included the embargoing of arms exports and warning Americans not to travel on ships of either belligerent. This act, though effective, was due to expire on February , 16. Therefore, the president signed an extension to the act, which was to include a ban on loans to belligerent nations.

A week later, on March 7, Hitler informed the world that he thought the Locarno Treaty dead, and that he was moving troops into Rhineland, the last frontier between Germany and France. Soon after, France fell to the incredible might of the Nazi army. When this happened, America realized that their last line of defense was Great Britain, and started to openly show support towards them. They sent all the arms, money, and raw materials that they could, believing that this would be enough to put a stop to Hitler’s evil regime.

However, Germany was not the only foe they feared. Japan was slowly but surely making her conquest through Asia. Japanese forces not only controlled all of the eastern Chinese shoreline, but the major cities with-in the country as well. They were also planning on conquering south-east Asia as part of the New Order in Asia. Americans thought that by putting economic pressure, Japan would be compelled to retreat. However, this spurred her on. Thousands of tons of oil were being consumed hourly, and with no flow of incoming oil, they would have to tap into the rich reserves in the Dutch Indies to survive.

With no visible means of diplomatic solution, Japan and America would soon be forced into the war. But America would not make the first move. So, on December 7, 141, Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor. No matter how big of a national tragedy this may have been, at the time of the attack, there was a sense of relief. It gave the United States a reason to go to war. That day, the congress recognized a state of war between Japan and Germany, with only one dissenting vote. However war with Germany wasn’t recognized until four days later, when Germany severed diplomatic relations with the United States of America, and declared war.

Robert A. Divine was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1. He attended Yale University earning his BA in 151, MA in 15, and PhD in 154. Afterwards, he taught American diplomatic history for 4 years at the University of Texas in Austin, where he received awards in both graduate and undergraduate teaching. His primary interests are in recent political and political history, with an emphasis on presidents from Franklin Roosevelt to George Bush Senior. In addition to The Reluctant Belligerent, Divine’s other published writings include American Immigration Policy 14, Illusions of Neutrality, Second Chance The Triumph of Internationalism In America During World War II, Foreign Policy and U.S. Presidential Elections, Roosevelt and World War II, Blowing In The Wind, and Since 145.

Overall, I thought that The Reluctant Belligerent was a well written, informative piece of literature. Some parts got a bit confusing because the author tended to skip back a few years in history to make a reference, but I never really got lost. There was also a lot of information to take in, but that never left me bored. The author’s writing was structured in a manner which always had me engrossed. I also learned many things from this book which I had never known before. For-instance, when people refer to World War II, they usually always refer to the post Pearl Harbor era of it. This is true in video games, movies, and even many historical fiction novels. Therefore, I had little idea of what went on before that attack. I knew the significant dates and names that were taught to us in seventh grade history, but I had no idea of the major toll it had taken on the world already.

I stress again that this was a very well written and informative book, which provided many insights into recent history. It also had a very sound thesis, which I agree with completely. The United States, as the singular world super power, could have done much to save the world from the tremendous amount of grief it had to endure. However, she was too caught up in trying to avoid what would turn out to be the ultimate solution her entrance into the war.

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