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Threshold of War Essay

Waldo Heinrich’s book Threshold of War is a complete review of the events of the nine months leading up to American intervention in world war two. While he puts the actions of Roosevelt and his cabinet during the nine months before Pearl Harbor in the global context, his underlying points are what caused the US to begin down the road of war, Roosevelt and his policies leading up to American intervention in the Second World War, and American transformation from isolationism to interventionism.

Heinrichs begins this story in his prologue discussing where he believes the problems leading up to the war began. He begins by saying that before the war ambushed the US it slowly snuck up over many years before crashing down on December 7th, 1941. He states that the world economic crisis and the stock market crash of 1929 began the decent towards war (Heinrichs 3). The economic crisis weakened confidence in world order, upset the foundations of political power, and promoted authoritarian rule. He goes on to write that aggression and pressure for territorial revisions lead international politics.

It would take Hitler’s violation of the Munich agreement and resistance by the French and British that would cause war to break out in Europe. Heinrichs notes that Americans sense of security would be unraveled with the conquest of France, siege of Britain, and German alliance with Japan. He finishes by writing that conflicts in East Asia and Europe would join a disconnected world, making the problems global (Heinrichs 3). Theses conflicts would lead to the nine months he discusses in this book, and the eventual outcome of Pearl Harbor and US intervention in the war.

While Heinrichs outlines the nine months leading up to Pearl Harbor in great detail, his underlying focus is on Roosevelt, his policies during this six months, and the gradual rise to interventionism. Heinrichs tends to paint Roosevelt not only in a good light, but also as perceptive. Heinrichs shows that Roosevelt had an intuition that despite the isolationist sentiment in America, the US would inevitably go to war. He shows that Roosevelt had this intuition in the 1930’s by stating, “ throughout the thirties Roosevelt built up the United States navy, first to treaty strength and afterwards well beyond” (Heinrichs 8)”.

He also goes on to mention the secret British-US agreement that in the case of Japanese threat, the US would move it’s fleet to Pearl Harbor and the British would move theirs to Singapore (Heinrichs 8). One final example of his intuition that Heinrichs shows is Roosevelt’s build up of air craft after Germany took over the rest of Czechoslovakia in march of 1939 (Heinrichs 8). The policies Roosevelt enacted during this time before Pearl Harbor were heavily aimed at helping the allies, as well as heading towards interventionism.

Roosevelt moves his legislation towards interventionism in two phases: the fourth neutrality act (commonly called cash and carry), and lend-lease. The first phase, the fourth neutrality act, repealed the arms embargo on the previous acts. This allowed France and Britain to purchase American arms, but they had to carry the goods away from American ports in their own ships (Heinrichs 9). The second phase, lend-lease, would bypass the neutrality laws altogether and allow the Britain access to American goods in exchange for overseas bases (Heinrichs 11).

This second phase is important, because as Heinrichs says “the American people had chosen by decisive margins to intervene in the war at least to the point of supplying aid to Britain” (Heinrichs 16). Although that is true, Heinrichs makes it a point to say that while it gave Roosevelt room he could not move too fast towards interventionism. Heinrichs points out, throughout the book, many small things Roosevelt did to help aid the allies without distressing the American public. For example, he secretly meet with the British and the outcome was the American-British-Canadian plan (ABC-1).

The ABC-1 created military principles and joint deployment strategies in the case the United States entered the war (Heinrichs 39-40). Another example of Roosevelt helping the allies was the Atlantic charter. Written in August 1941, just three months before official American entry into World War Two, it outlined the goals of the allies for the postwar war. Heinrichs goes on to say the charter was relatively unremarkable because most British and American citizens took for granted what it said (Heinrichs 151-152). Finally, Heinrichs mentions two more small items allowing help for the allies.

November 7th the US allowed the Soviet Union to use lend-lease, and on November 13th the US rescinded the remaining neutrality laws (Heinrichs 206). These two small acts allowed for all of the allies to benefit from the rising wartime economy in the US and allowed US ships to enter into combat zones armed. To sum up, Heinrichs book Threshold of War is a good review of the nine moths before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Heinrichs describes the nine months in detail all the while showing Roosevelt’s intuition about US intervention, and the policies he enacted to help lead the country from isolationism to interventionism.


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