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the United States into World War II Essay

Conventional wisdom regarding the entry of the United States into World War Two says that Hitler’s wars of conquest in Europe and also his sponsoring of U-boat warfare in the North Atlantic and elsewhere, as well as Japanese imperialism and the Japanese invasion of China is responsible for the US entering the war. The justification for war was made clear by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, a “surprise” attack which showed the determination of the Axis powers to dominate the world.

These ideas are good, but they are only the mere surface of the issue. Though a sense of moral obligation might be given as the reason for US entry into the war, even when one “rejects the purely moral justification of American entry into the war against Hitler,” it becomes equally as difficult to justify US involvement in the South Pacific and the war against Japan on purely moral grounds.

(Russett, 1997, p. 44). While it is true that the Japanese, “were often unkind conquerors,” they were also “welcomed in the former European colonies of Southeast Asia, and Japan” and they were able to keep some good relations native rebels; so Japanese territorial expansion and influence was in no way one-sided or always regarded as brutal.

Whether or not moral justification was desired or necessary for the US to declare war on Japan, it is “Hitler, not Tojo, who is customarily presented as the personification of evil” and therefore it is Germany, not Japan, which carries most of the weight of “moral justification” for the US entry into World War Two,” (Russett, 1997, p. 44). When Adolf Hitler rose to power in 1933 he had already divulged most of his far-reaching plans for war in Europe and especially for war in the east, against Russia.

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Also obvious was his violent hatred for the Jews and his ambition to attain global German and Nazi power. In his celebrated “autobiography” Mein Kampf, Hitler made clear to whomever was paying attention (maybe the world) his ideas and beliefs which formed the basis of Nazi philosophy and it is to the sorrow and pity of millions that Hitler’s blatant pronouncements went unheeded by politicians and generals throughout Europe. This mistake would be repeated at least three more times as the world sped toward World War Two.

On at last three occasions: during the Anschluss when Hitler integrated Austria into the German Reich, again during Hitler’s military conquest of the Sudentland and, once more, when Hitler engineered the political conquest of Czechoslovakia at Munich, the post-war Treaty of Versailles had been broken. From the base of 100,000 troops permitted under the Versailles Treaty, Hitler, on 1 October 1934, “ordered a trebling of army size, as well as the creation of an air force, which had been illegal under the Versailles terms” later, after this initial violation, “troops were sent into the Rhineland,” which broke the Treaty of Versailles openly.

(Black, 2003, p. 4). In each of these cases, military intervention by France, Britain, and Russian was not only lawful, it was indicated by treaty: and, as is obviously the case looking back on history, each of the chances provided an opportunity for the Allied powers to prevent World War Two. During the invasion of the Sudentland, Hitler’s true ambitions lay elsewhere, he desired to invade Czechoslovakia, and in doing so, secure the German flank for an eventual invasion of the Soviet Union.

Clearly, Germany was heading in the direction of war. So, any argument that Hitler or Germany’s were hidden or hard to understand is weak, if not plainly foolish. This fact, however, seemed to have little influence of the European policy of appeasement, which allowed not only human rights abuses in the Reich to continues unchallenged, but allowed for blatant military conquest of sovereign nations by Germany.

Meanwhile, America’s isolationist vision towards continued, leaving Hitler with a free hand after his shrewdly engineered “Pact of Steel” had been concluded with his sworn enemy the Soviet Union. The US entered World war One slowly, and after “the conclusion of hostilities there was a wave of revulsion against war and military activity, ” which resulted in a public unwillingness to be “involved in the affairs of other countries which might lead to further conflict,”(Aldcroft, 1997, p.

8). Though the pattern of appeasement followed by France and Britain in the wake of Hitler’s string of highly-visible conquests is difficult to understand, the apprehension toward war which had been seeded in the aftermath of World War One, “pacifism was strong in both Britain and France, in large part in response to the massive casualties in World War One” as well as serious problems with the ensuing Treaty of Versailles are the best explanation for the malaise of the Allies.

Instead of “responding forcefully against the successive breaches of the Versailles settlement,” France and Britain decided to take a pretty much passive position in regards to Nazi Germany. Clearly these actions “encouraged Nazi expansionism” even though the British and French governments were blind to the dangers of Nazism and believed that they were averting a war through their diplomatic efforts. (Black , 2003, p. 4). Meanwhile, everyone concerned hoped Hitler’s conquests would be limited and that he would spend his time “ruling Germany” and not seeking conflict or expansion throughout Europe.

Of course, these hopes turned out to be foolishly placed because “”Hitler’s aim–as he had set it down in Mein Kampf[… ] was an expansion of Germany” and the outbreak of the war made those who had sought to make diplomacy the leading idea for dealing with Hitler had to admit that his diplomacy was merely a smokescreen to his desire to make war on those he believed were his enemies or those who opposed his plans for expansion for Germany.

That he had already made all of his ambitions clear in his book was not important to the European leaders who dealt with Hitler initially; they just believed whatever he said to the loss of territories and thousands of peoples lives. (Jarman 206) Nothing seem to limit or stop the Allied policy of appeasement at Munich, which sacrificed the nation of Czechoslovakia to Hitler and the Nazis without a shot being fired.

Hitler was also “determined to destroy Czechoslovakia, a democratic state that looked to other great powers for support”; this would be a demonstration of the Reich’s power and intentions to expand its territories in the face of European opposition. Later, just “six months before the start of the Second World War, Czechoslovakia had ceased to exist,” and was incorporated into the Reich. (Brown, 2004, p. 40).

Munich provided the most dramatic, and obvious, representation of Hitler’s ambitions and yet the irony is Germany would have been unable to match the military forces of the Allies during any of the three conquests outlined above. At the time of Munich, the German army could “muster only 31 divisions or regular troops and 7 reserve divisions;” this in contrasted with Allied powers “the French could hurl over 100 divisions and simply walk to Berlin. ” In fact, the Czech army itself might have provide for its own protection had it been allowed to fight. (Brown, 2004, p. 40).

Instead, Hitler was allowed to digest his conquests and plot his eventual war with the Soviet Union. No matter how considered the overwhelming historical evidence is that the Allies could have prevented the rise of global Nazism and the eventual outbreak of World War Two by abandoning their policies of appeasement and confronting the Third Reich with overwhelming military force. Although the the Hitler-Stalin pact of August 1939 offered Germany protection from Soviet military retaliation and allowed the proposed invasion of Poland to take place without fear of Soviet reprisal.

The Wehrmacht defeated the Polish army in just over 25 days and later when Spring allowed a more forceful and aggressive campaign strategy, the Wehrmacht descended upon the ‘low countries:” Denmark, Belgium, Norway, and the Netherlands. After two and a half months, the French surrendered. And even though the majority of the British expeditionary force to the continent escaped at Dunkirk, the British experienced the loss of their heavy equipment. Ultimately, Mussolini decided to launch Italy into the war only a fear days after France’s surrender, (Russett, 1997, p.

25) Meanwhile, America’s involvement in the war was limited to the implementation of the “The Lend-Lease Act, which was to pour billions of dollars of supplies into Britain” and also, pave the way for military involvement. Not only did US forces occupy Iceland, but “President Roosevelt had agreed that American ships would escort convoys–including British ships” to Iceland. This convoying was not entirely peaceful, it meant that “if German U-boats approached the American escorts were to “shoot on sight” to insure that the goods got through.

These were steps to protect Britain and also steps toward total war. (Russett, 1997, p. 26) In the Pacific war, Japan continued with an “exhausting and seemingly endless war” which started with the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931, and was “greatly escalated by the clash at the Marco Polo Bridge which expanded into severe open warfare with China in 1937”; such considerations were deeply incongruous with American ambitions in Southeast Asia. (Russett, 1997, p. 45) The friction between the US and Japan over the “China Incident” stemmed basically from an opposition of geopolitical ambitions.

Japan considered itself and Imperial power, one which was as entitled to territorial expansion and expansion of influence as Britain or the United States and it viewed Southeast Asia and China as residing within its natural spheres of influence. To give up ambitions in China would be admitting that Japan was a second or third-rate world power and the elite of Japan’s military and civilian leaders found such a decision impossible because it gave in entirely to American demands..

In July of 1941, Japanese assets were frozen in America, and “the consequent cessation of shipment of oil, scrap iron, and other goods from the United States, Japan’s economy was in most severe straits and her power to wage war directly threatened” and her ability to make war was becoming severely threatened by the ongoing embargoes against her. Japanese military planners estimated that “reserves of oil, painfully accumulated in the late 1930s when the risk of just such a squeeze became evident, would last at most two years” by which time it would be far too late to make a stand, militarily, against the United States in China or elsewhere.

Somehow, Japan had found its way to a “no good choices” scenario, with acquiescence to American demands dooming Japan to a less than coequal status with the world’s dominant powers, or war with the United States — sooner than later — before supplies dwindled below practical abilities to make war. (Russett, 1997, p. 46). Diplomatic efforts proved useless when “The United States, and the British and Dutch,” would end the embargoes only as a response to “Japanese withdrawal from air and naval bases in Indochina”; and at this time the Japanese military began to consider war with the U. S.

inevitable. Most of the Japanese elite “were opposed to any settlement which would in effect have meant withdrawal from China” which would also mean the increase of Western, particularly American influence, in precisely those ares which Japan’s ruling castes believed were the natural provinces of the Japanese Empire. (Russett, 1997, p. 47). While the Japanese military planned for war, the American government also planned for an escalation of hostilities: “By autumn 1941, however, opinion was crystalizing in the highest levels of the American decision-making system” this process was leading to war.

Roosevelt ” informally polled his cabinet on the question of whether the country would support war against Japan” and the result was that “All members responded in the affirmative”; with public support behind the war, conflict with Japan seemed immanent. (Russett, 1997, p. 50) By the beginning of December their attack was irrevocably set in motion. The Japanese conviction that war could not be limited to the British and Dutch had to be based wholly on inference.

Yet it was a correct analysis and a solid conviction, as shown by the otherwise inexplicable risk they took at Pearl Harbor “the attack ensured American popular support for the war in the Pacific, just as the moral argument against Hitler in Europe worked to fuel public support for the American entry into World War Two. (Russett, 1997, p. 51)


Aldcroft, D. (1997). The Versailles Legacy. History Review, (29), 8+. Retrieved October 9, 2007, from Questia database: http://www. questia. com/PM. qst? a=o&d=5000546084

Black, J. (2003). World War Two. New York: Routledge. Retrieved October 9, 2007, from Questia database: http://www. questia. com/PM. qst? a=o&d=107721060 Brown, M. D. (2004, December). The S. O. E. and the Failure of the Slovak National Uprising: Martin D. Brown Tells the Little-Known Story of How British and American Soldiers Disappeared in Slovakia’s Tatra Mountains during the Remarkable Episode of Slovakia’s National Uprising against Its Nazi- Supporting Government during the Second World War. History Today, 54, 39+.

Retrieved October 9, 2007, from Questia database: http://www. questia. com/PM. qst? a=o&d=5008450227 Jarman, T. L. (1956). The Rise and Fall of Nazi Germany (1st ed. ). New York: New York University Press. Retrieved October 9, 2007, from Questia database: http://www. questia. com/PM. qst? a=o&d=3599747 Russett, B. M. (1997). No Clear and Present Danger: A Skeptical View of the United States Entry into World War II. Boulder,Colo. : Westview Press. Retrieved October 9, 2007, from Questia database: http://www. questia. com/PM. qst? a=o&d=85757888

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