Two’s Roots within One’s
Throughout history, people have disagreed in regards to the beginning of wars. In Arnold A. Offner’s The Origins of the Second World War, it is revealed that the Great War did not spontaneously erupt in 1941, but through events of the previous World War I. US intervention in not only international, but also foreign and domestic affairs shifted its foreign policy around to mold America for the benefit of the future. Offner roots out the changes in American foreign policy leading to American intervention and patience in compromising before an unavoidable second world war, as it “was an outgrowth of the junction of European and Asian developments in a fashion that was not entirely foreseen, and to a surprising extent not entirely controlled, by those who brought about the apocalyptic confrontation.”1
Initially, Offner explains how the United States was struggling to wage peace with the opposition. Secretary of State Charles Hughes claimed that Americans, through these tensions, had, “found [their] fate linked with that of the free peoples who were struggling for the preservation of the essentials of freedom,”2 using this idea to intervene in foreign affairs. Fulfilling this destiny, as argued by the US ambassador to Great Britain George Harvey, it seemed that, “what was good for America would have to be good for the rest of the world,”3 convincing President Woodrow Wilson to affirm America’s “City Upon the Hill,” making the United States as the epitome for mankind. As the commander-in-chief of the country, Wilson strove to take action in response to the long term effects, declaring American neutrality. However, this neutrality was useless against World War II as Germany refused to attend the negotiation conference which was this quarrel. Following this failed negotiation, German High Command concluded that the country could neither win, nor lose the war. In addition to Germany’s refusal to compensate, its treaties were the harshest. Wilson argued, “for they are hard-but Germans earned that,”4 increasing the possibility of entering, once again, global warfare. In response, American citizens desired to take out the Germans, as US Senator Lodge defended this conflict, "cannot be a negotiated peace, but only an unconditional surrender."5 This lead to a mass hysteria to root out the Germans and to conclude an end to global harassment. Even with pleasant negotiations, regardless of who favored them, the United States was at war in foreign relations. As foreign affairs intensified, America struggled to resist combat warfare, as it was technically at war due to the stabbing of Treaty of Versailles and the League Covenant in 1921.
Due to these locked conflicts, the nations of the two sides were incompatible, rejecting each type of negotiation. World powers like Germany renounced war from its definition as a means for national policy, concluding that the only solution to these foreign affairs was battle. Additionally, even when global leaders came to an agreement in the Kellogg-Briand Pact, they did not necessarily abide by its seemingly flawed negotiation. The European powers blamed this treaty for their domestic and foreign problems. As a result, Foreign Minister Walter Rathenau was assassinated in June of 1922, an action which reinforced the French image of Germany exacting revenge. Furthermore, Germany and Russia violated the terms of the Treaty of Versailles by secretly allying for their own ambitions. In addition, France felt that it was being overcharged by Americans in war supplement prices, leading to more negotiations. However, in late 1924, though US and France tried to reach a compromise, they only “had tentative negotiations by acrimony, interest rates, and French insistence on ‘safe guard,’”6 allowing reduced payments if Germany divided pay back in full to them. As these agreements began to seem futile, Secretary of State Langston Hughes tried to forestall the world crisis with warnings to the French of leaving them vulnerable. In effect, the United States paid for its own debts. However, with the rise of Adolf Hitler, German foreign politics spiraled down quickly as Hitler repudiated Western diplomacy. Due to the rise of dictatorship and the fall of the Far East to communism, the US began to search for order.
With its ruler, Japan became a great power in the far east’s international politics. In effect, Russian purchases in Japan’s market undercut American investors like Edward H. Harriman and Jacob Schiffin, who were looking to Manchuria as a New West that would absorb American railroad investments and manufacturing. The United States pledged to Japan not to seek special rights or privileges in China that would abridge those of other friendly states. However, due to the weak infrastructure of China’s government, the US and Great Powers wondered how to deal with divided China. In addition, US officials became upset over the reports and conditions of European concentration camps. Due to this division, on October 8, 1931, Secretary Stimson told China that America was neutral and "to let the Japanese know we [Americans] are watching them and at the same time to do it in such a way which will help [Foreign minister] Shidehara, who is on the right side, and not play into the hands of any national agitators."7 The US declaration through the Neutrality Act of 1937 primarily allowed Americans to maintain neutrality and carry on a lucrative wartime trade without the risk that commercial debts might lead to US intervention on behalf of Great Britain in 1917. Additionally, President Franklin D. Roosevelt believed that Europe's problems were exclusively the issues of its nations; hence, it was futile for the United States to be of any assistance to the Allies. However, as FDR proclaimed that "this nation [would] remain a neutral nation, but I cannot ask that every American remain neutral in thought,"8 American citizens started to grow angry as their country seemed to be a worthless piece in the game. Adding to its growing discontent, Nazi Germany demanded not only the immediate right to construct weapons initially prohibited by the Treaty of Versailles, but also the freedom to increase its army. Due to these circumstances, America became divided due to pro- and anti-war supporters in the states, leading to the last and completely destructive battle recorded in history.
In order to solve this tension, the United States began its road toward Armageddon. It shifted its foreign policy to a low-key response, opposing the Allies’ and Axis’ course of action, and felt that each nation should state its own perspectives independently. America's formal response was a bland aide-mémoire. On April 29, 1937, it declared its government acquiesced to its relations with China were governed by international law. However, on December 12, 1937, Japan damaged several American and British ships with its aviators, altering America’s perspectives on the Asian nation. Although its officials apologized, later intel revealed that these raids were not accidental, leading to a growing distaste of the Japanese empire. After April 9, 1940, peace negotiations became an agenda as countries initiated occupations of areas around the globe. As a result of these tentative treaties, President Roosevelt affirmed on October 23, 1940 that there was not a peace concordat or obligation that could involve the United States in any war in any way. However, he addressed that America, "must become the great arsenal of democracy,"9 since she is the key to world peace. Additionally, on June 24, Roosevelt postponed any decision in the removal of American fleets from Pearl Harbor. This American spirit of unwillingness to fight gave Japan a golden opportunity to achieve their expansionist goals. During the autumn of 1940, American officials unanimously agreed that Japan was a part of a system that challenged US interests in Asian countries and, therefore, threatened the American way of life. Roosevelt wrote to Ambassador Grew on December 14 that, "we are engaged in the task of defending our way of life and our vital national interests wherever they are seriously endangered. Our strategy of self-defense must be a global strategy,"10 announcing that America has not only the price of freedom on the line, but also the sake of global peace and democracy.
Although he wanted to defend the nation's ideology, President Roosevelt had no intentions of being rewarded with an armed conflict with Nazi Germany. In addition, he not only eschewed any consideration of direct United States involvement in World War II, but also was devoted to searching for the means of fulfilling America's task as the arsenal of democracy. The United States sent Colonel William J. Donovan in January of 1941 to the Balkans and the Middle East in order to encourage resistance to German advances on their land. In addition, Lend-Lease Administrator Edward R. Stettinius made an appropriate declaration that the Soviet Union's defenses were vital to the United States' protection. Furthermore, Adolf Hitler's stiffer diplomatic course of action upon Japan contributed to the inevitable east and west clash. Due to the quick confrontation, it seemed to the world that it itself would once again enter another total war.
Although negotiations continued even after October 15, 1941, it seemed useless. On November 30, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill urged Franklin D. Roosevelt to warn the Japanese that any further aggression would force the issues to be placed before United States Congress for future actions. In addition, President Roosevelt appealed to the Japanese emperor Hirohito, striving for an abrupt stop to another world war. However, on December 7, 1941, at 11AM, the US Chief of Staff warned all Pacific commands to break relations. At 1:50 PM, the US Navy Department messages to the motherland that, "AIR RAID PEARL HARBOR. THIS IS NOT A DRILL!"11 Although, signals of the Pearl Harbor raid were indicated before in the autumn of 1941, on December 7, 1941, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in addition to assaults on Malaya, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Midway. Due to these raids, Britain declared war on Japan. Although in Hitler’s perspective, “a great power like German declares war itself and does not want for war to be declared on it,”12 that Britain’s course of action was justifiable and reflected its greatness. Fuhrer accuses President Roosevelt and his New Deal for wasting national resources and declaring war on Germany. In response, Congress of the United States passed a joint resolution against not only Germany, but also Benito Mussolini’s Italy. Eventually, on December 11, 1941, at 3 PM, the Eastern and Western hemispheres interallied for the start of the Second World War.
Throughout the novel, Arnold A. Offner believed that the causes of World War II was not due to the events in the 1940s, but rooted in the effects of World War I. His “purpose is to explore how the United States envision and conducted itself in international affairs and what the foreign as well as domestic forces were that moved policy in one direction or another,”13 concluding how America entered World War II. As America entered the Second World War, its foreign policy changed and influenced other powers; his purpose, however, is neither to search for heroes or villains nor to impose a conspiracy thesis on the ultimate outcome. Rather, Offner expands to an unbiased viewpoint “to offer a perspective on American involvement in interwar problems and to explain the intentions, purposes, and responsibilities, as well as the limits or possibilities, of American foreign policy in the events leading up to the Second World War.”14
Arnold A. Offner is a New Yorker of Jewish descent who believes in the big picture of many topics including American foreign affairs. As a father of two children, he accepts different opinions, juxtaposing to see how other view ideas. Supporting this statement, Offner believes that a multinational approach has also benefitted from the passage of time, which allows historians to place events within a long-term context, and from the continual opening of new resources and increased multi-archival research. As a professor of history at Lafayette College, Offner understands the aspects of different cultural beliefs and relates them in an intertwining vine of events. During his time in 1975, communism began to take control of nations while America just pulled its troops out of South Vietnam. Although, back home, the country began a hippie movement advocating world peace while it experienced an economic recession. The New Left historians became inspired and spread the idea of the “other America”, a quarter of Americans in perpetual poverty. Due to this speculation, Americans sought to explain the commitment to perpetual war for prosperity for the few. As a result, Offner desires to offer a multinational perspective on American involvement in interwar problems and to explain the ideals of American foreign policy leading up to the Second World War.
As time progressed, Offner’s The Origins of the Second World War met reviews about its standard and its style of writing. In Praeger’s Kirkus Review, Professor Offner is classified as one who produced a classic specimen of the sort of analysis which views history as consisting of "one damned thing after another."15 To Praeger, this book is a survey, which traces the intentions, purposes and responsibilities, as well as the limits or possibilities, of American foreign policy in the events leading up to the Second World War. The quest for origins goes back to 1914 and even to Hay's Open Door of 1899-1900. His methodology is to present every conceivable factor relevant to the determination of American policy, stressing especially the ways in which developments were not entirely foreseen, and to a surprising extent not entirely controlled by the policy-makers. Offner's talents are considerable. To Praeger, he writes lucidly, his judgments are fair and balanced, and he is capable of synthesizing various and complex strands without stripping them of their complexity (his discussion of America's dollar-diplomacy and half-in half-out isolationism of the 1920's is particularly good). The book is something of a tour de force of intelligent comparison and analysis. But the limitations of this seamless web historiography are manifest. As one event follows the next, the historian appears unwilling or unable to judge the relative importance of the panoply of causes. Unsurprisingly, Offner has written no concluding chapter. Having reached the end of this book, all one can do is go back and start again at the beginning.
The Origins of the Second World War was an unbiased, yet informative novel explaining the entire aspect of the causes of World War II. Offner points out that America’s foreign policy has changed overtime due to previous conflicts that led to the US involvement in the Second World War. Throughout the novel, Offner explains many different points of view in what really caused the United States to enter World War II. It is agreeable that the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 has been the sole cause of America being associated in the battle. However, “the events leading to the Second World War clearly seem to be rooted in both the general and specific questions and problems posed at the time of the First World War,”16 revealing that it was not only Japan’s wrongdoing in the attack of Pearl Harbor, which initiated the US involvement in World War II, but America’s actions affected the growing dissent in the hearts of opposing European countries towards the nation.
The Origins of the Second World War not only lists the ideals of the causes, but also reveals that the 1940s was a watershed in American history. Offner reveals that the United States now has become a global power serving to protect the spread of freedom. In his response, Offner elaborates that America “must be the great arsenal of democracy,”17as which she is now the peacemaker of the world. This contention stating that the 1940s was a watershed in American history with the origins of World War II is proven by which the United States has become a leader of freedom for all to follow.
In every civilization, people have pertained controversies in regards to the beginning of wars. As proven in The Origins of the Second World War, Offner clearly roots out the American foreign policy as, “an outgrowth of the junction of European and Asian developments in a fashion that was not entirely foreseen, and not entirely controlled, by those who caused the apocalyptic confrontation.”18 Furthermore, students and scholars should continue studying this era in order to fully understand its impact
1 Offner, Arnold. The Origins of the Second World War. New York: Praeger Publishers, Inc., 1975. 3.
2 Offner, Arnold. The Origins of the Second World War. New York: Praeger Publishers, Inc., 1975. 4.
3 Offner, Arnold. The Origins of the Second World War. New York: Praeger Publishers, Inc., 1975. 4.
4 Offner, Arnold. The Origins of the Second World War. New York: Praeger Publishers, Inc., 1975. 24.
5 Offner, Arnold. The Origins of the Second World War. New York: Praeger Publishers, Inc., 1975. 28.
6 Offner, Arnold. The Origins of the Second World War. New York: Praeger Publishers, Inc., 1975. 32.
7 Offner, Arnold. The Origins of the Second World War. New York: Praeger Publishers, Inc., 1975. 98.
8 Offner, Arnold. The Origins of the Second World War. New York: Praeger Publishers, Inc., 1975. 132.
9 Offner, Arnold. The Origins of the Second World War. New York: Praeger Publishers, Inc., 1975. 185.
10 Offner, Arnold. The Origins of the Second World War. New York: Praeger Publishers, Inc., 1975. 193.
11 Offner, Arnold. The Origins of the Second World War. New York: Praeger Publishers, Inc., 1975. 242.
12 Offner, Arnold. The Origins of the Second World War. New York: Praeger Publishers, Inc., 1975. 245.
13 Offner, Arnold. The Origins of the Second World War. New York: Praeger Publishers, Inc., 1975. xiii.
14 Offner, Arnold. The Origins of the Second World War. New York: Praeger Publishers, Inc., 1975. Xiv
15 “THE ORIGINS OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR." Kirkus Reviews. Praeger, 1 Mar. 1975. Web. 05 June 2013.
16 Offner, Arnold. The Origins of the Second World War. New York: Praeger Publishers, Inc., 1975. 248.
17 Offner, Arnold. The Origins of the Second World War. New York: Praeger Publishers, Inc., 1975. 3.
18 Offner, Arnold. The Origins of the Second World War. New York: Praeger Publishers, Inc., 1975. 185.