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Current R., Williams T. H., Freidel F., Brinkley A. American History: a survey. 7th edition; New York, 1987.


 

Chapter 27. The Global Crisis, 1921-1945

Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and one of the most powerful figures in the Republican party, led the fight against ratification of the Treaty of Versailles in 1918 and 1919. In part because of his efforts, the treaty was defeated; the United States failed to join the League of Nations; and American foreign policy embarked on an independent course that for the next two decades would attempt, but ultimately fail, to expand American influence and maintain international stability without committing the United States to any lasting relationships with other nations.

Lodge was not an isolationist. He recognized that America had emerged from World War I the most powerful nation in the world. He believed the United States should use that power and should exert its influence internationally. But he believed, too, that America's expanded role in the world should reflect the nation's own interests and its own special virtues; it should leave the nation unfettered with obligations to anyone else. He said in 1919: "We are a great moral asset of Christian civilization. . . . How did we get there? By our own efforts. Nobody led us, nobody guided us, nobody controlled us. ... I would keep America as she has beennot isolated, not prevent her from joining other nations for . . . great purposesbut I wish her to be master of her own fate."

Lodge was not alone in voicing such sentiments. Throughout the 1920s, those controlling American foreign policy attempted continually to increase America's role in the world while at the same time keeping the nation free of burdensome commitments that might limit its own freedom of action. In 1933, Franklin Roosevelt became president, bringing with him his own legacy as a leading Wilsonian internationalist and an erstwhile supporter of the League of Nations. But for more than six years, Roosevelt too attempted to keep America the "master of her own fate," to avoid important global commitments that might reduce the nation's ability to pursue its own ends.

In the end, the cautious, limited American internationalism of the interwar years proved insufficient either to protect the interests of the United States or to encourage global stability. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the fragile international order established in the aftermath of World War I suffered a series of devastating blowseconomic, political, and military. By the late 1930s, a new world crisis had emerged, which threatened to create a new world war. The United States moved slowly to respond to the emerging dangerspartly because the government itself was not certain how to act, partly because it was aware of how strongly much of the public opposed any involvement in international conflicts. But after war broke out in Europe in 1939, the nation found it increasingly difficult to maintain a detached stance. By the fall of 1941, the United States was deeply involved in the conflict in countless ways. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, only made official what had been growing obvious for some time: that America would play a critical role in the greatest war in human history.

The Diplomacy of the New Era

Critics of American foreign policy in the 1920s often used a single word to describe the cause of their disenchantment: isolationism. Having rejected the Wilsonian vision of a new world order, the nation had, many charged, turned its back on the rest of the globe and repudiated its international responsibilities. But in reality, the United States played a more active role in world affairs in the 1920s than it had at almost any previous time in its history.

Replacing the League

It was clear when the Harding administration took office in 1921 that American membership in the League of Nations was no longer a realistic possibility. As if finally to bury the issue, Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes secured legislation from Congress in 1921 declaring the war with Germany at an end and then proceeded to negotiate separate peace treaties with the former Central Powers. Through these treaties, American policymakers believed, the United States would receive all the advantages of the Versailles Treaty with none of the burdensome responsibilities. Hughes was, however, committed to finding something to replace the League as a guarantor of world peace and stability. He embarked, therefore, on a series of efforts to build safeguards against future warsbut safeguards that would not hamper American freedom of action in the world.

The most important of such efforts was the Washington Conference of 1921an attempt to prevent what was threatening to become a costly and destabilizing naval armaments race among America, Britain, and Japan. Hughes startled the delegates by proposing in his opening speech a plan for dramatic reductions in the fleets of all three nations and a ten-year moratorium on the construction of large warships. He envisioned the actual scrapping of nearly 2 million tons of existing shipping. Far more surprising than the proposal was that the conference ultimately agreed to accept most of its terms, something that Hughes himself apparently had not anticipated. The Five-Power Pact of February 1922 established both the limits for total naval tonnage and a ratio of armaments among the signatories. For every 5 tons of American and British warships, Japan would maintain 3 and France and Italy 1.75 each. (Although the treaty seemed to confirm the military inferiority of Japan, in fact it sanctioned Japanese dominance in East Asia. America and Britain had to spread their fleets across the globe; Japan was concerned only with the Pacific.) The Washington Conference also produced two other, related treaties: the Nine-Power Pact, pledging a continuation of the Open Door policy in China, and the Four-Power Pact, by which the United States, Britain, France, and Japan promised to respect one another's Pacific territories and cooperate to prevent aggression.

The Washington Conference began the New Era effort to protect the peace (and to protect the international economic interests of the United States) without accepting active international duties. The Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 concluded it. When the French foreign minister, Aristide Briand, asked the United States in 1927 to join an alliance against a resurgent Germany, Secretary of State Frank Kellogg (who had replaced Hughes in 1925) proposed instead a multilateral treaty outlawing war as an instrument of national policy. Fourteen nations signed the agreement in Paris on August 27, 1928, amid great solemnity and wide international acclaim. Forty-eight other nations later joined the pact. It contained no instruments of enforcement but rested, as Kellogg put it, on the "moral force" of world opinion.

Debts and Diplomacy

The first responsibility of diplomacy, Hughes, Kellogg, and others agreed, was to ensure that American overseas trade faced no obstacles to expansion and that, once established, it would remain free of interference. Preventing a dangerous armaments race and reducing the possibility of war were two steps to that end. So were the new financial arrangements that emerged at the same time. Most important to the United States was Europe, on whose economic health American prosperity in large part depended. Not only were the major industrial powers there suffering from the devastation of war; they were also staggering under a heavy burden of debt. The Allied powers were struggling to repay $11 billion in loans they had contracted with the United States during and shortly after the war, loans that the Republican administrations were unwilling to reduce or forgive. "They hired the money, didn't they?" Calvin Coolidge replied when queried about the debts. At the same time, an even more debilitated Germany was attempting to pay the enormous reparations levied against it by the Allies. With the financial structure of Europe on the brink of collapse as a result, the United States stepped in with a solution.

Charles B. Dawes, an American banker, negotiated an agreement in 1924 among France, Britain, Germany, and the United States under which American banks would provide enormous loans to the Germans, enabling them to meet their reparations payments; in return, Britain and France would agree to reduce the amount of those payments. The Dawes Plan became the centerpiece of a growing American economic presence in Germany. It also became the source of a troubling circular pattern in international finance. America would lend money to Germany, which would use that money to pay reparations to France and England, which would in turn use those funds (as well as large loans they themselves were receiving from American banks) to repay war debts to the United States. The flow was able to continue only by virtue of the enormous debts Germany and the other European nations were acquiring to American banks and corporations.

Those banks and corporations were doing more than providing loans. They were becoming a daily presence in the economic life of Europe. American automobile manufacturers were opening European factories, capturing a large share of the overseas market. Other industries in the 1920s were establishing subsidiaries worth more than $10 billion throughout the Continent, taking advantage of the devastation of European industry and the inability of domestic corporations to recover. Some groups within the American government warned that the reckless expansion of overseas loans and investments, many in enterprises of dubious value, threatened disaster; that the United States was becoming too dependent on unstable European economies. The high tariff barriers that the Republican Congress had erected (through the Fordney-McCumber Act of 1922) were creating additional problems, such skeptics warned. European nations unable to export their goods to the United States were finding it difficult to earn the money necessary to repay their loans. Such warnings fell, for the most part, on deaf ears; and American economic expansion in Europe continued until disaster struck in 1931.

The government felt even fewer reservations about assisting American economic expansion in Latin America. The United States had, after all, long considered that region its exclusive sphere of influence; and its investments there had become large even before World War I. During the 1920s, American military forces maintained a presence in numerous countries in the region, despite Hughes's withdrawal of troops from the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. United States investments in Latin America more than doubled between 1924 and 1929; American corporations built roads and other facilities in many areaspartly, they argued, to weaken the appeal of revolutionary forces in the region, but at least equally to increase their own access to Latin America's rich natural resources. American banks were offering large loans to Latin American governments, just as they were in Europe; and just as in Europe, the Latin Americans were having great difficulty earning the money to repay them, in the face of the formidable United States tariff barrier. By the end of the 1920s, resentment of "Yankee imperialism" was already reaching alarming proportions; the economic troubles after 1929 would only accentuate ^such problems.

Hoover and the World Crisis

After the relatively placid international climate of the 1920s, the diplomatic challenges facing the Hoover administration must have seemed ominous and bewildering. The world financial crisis that had begun in 1929 and greatly intensified after 1931 was not only creating economic distress; it was producing a heightened nationalism that threatened the weak international agreements established during the previous decade. Above all, the Depression was toppling many existing political leaders and replacing them with powerful, belligerent governments bent on expansion as a solution to their economic problems. Hoover was confronted, therefore, with the beginning of a process that would ultimately lead to war, and he was finding himself without sufficient tools to deal with it.

In Latin America, Hoover worked studiously to repair some of the damage created by earlier American actions. He made a ten-week good-will tour through the region before his inauguration. Once in office, he attempted to abstain from intervening in the internal affairs of neighboring nations and moved to withdraw American troops from Nicaragua and Haiti. When economic distress led to the collapse of one Latin American regime after another, Hoover announced a new policy: America would grant diplomatic recognition to any sitting government in the region without questioning the means it had used to obtain power. He even repudiated the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine by refusing to permit American intervention when several Latin American countries defaulted on debt obligations to the United States in October 1931.

In Europe, the administration enjoyed few successes in its efforts to promote economic stability. When Hoover's proposed moratorium on debts in 1931 failed to attract broad support or produce financial stability (see above, pp. 719-720), many economists and political leaders appealed to the president to cancel all war debts to the United States. Like his predecessors, Hoover refused; and several European nations promptly went into default, severely damaging an already tense international climate. American efforts to extend the disarmament agreements of the 1920s met with similar frustration. At a conference in London in January 1930, American negotiators reached agreement with European and Japanese delegates on extending the limits on naval construction established at the Washington Conference of 1921. But France and England, fearful of a resurgent Germany and an expanding Japan, insisted on so many loopholes as to make the treaty virtually meaningless. The increasing irrelevance of the New Era approach to diplomacy became even clearer at the World Disarmament Conference that opened in Geneva in January 1932. France rejected the idea of disarmament entirely and called for the creation of an international army to counter the growing power of Germany. Hoover continued to urge major reductions in armaments, including an immediate abolition of all "offensive" weapons (tanks, bombers) and a 30 percent reduction in all land and naval forces. The conference ultimately dissolved in failure.

The ineffectiveness of diplomacy in Europe was particularly troubling in view of the character of some of the new governments coming to power on the Continent. Benito Mussolini's Fascist party had been in control of Italy since the early 1920s; by the 1930s, the regime was growing highly nationalistic and militaristic, and fascist leaders were loudly threatening an active campaign of imperial expansion. Even more ominous was the growing power of the National Socialist (or Nazi) party in Germany. The Weimar Republic, which had emerged as the nation's government at the end of World War I, had by the late 1920s lost virtually all popular support; it was discredited by, among other things, a ruinous inflation. And Adolf Hitler, the stridently nationalistic leader of the Nazis, was rapidly growing in popular favor. Although he lost a 1932 election for chancellor, Hitler would sweep into power less than a year later. His belief in the racial superiority of the Aryan (German) people, his commitment to providing Lebensraum (living space) for his "master race," his blatant anti-Semitism, and his passionate militarismall posed a threat to European peace.

More immediately alarming was a major crisis in Asiaone that proved to be an early step toward World War II. The Japanese, reeling from an economic depression of their own, had developed an intense concern about the increasing power of the Soviet Union and of Chiang Kai-shek's nationalist China. In particular, they were alarmed at Chiang's insistence on expanding his government's power in Manchuria, which remained officially a part of China but over which the Japanese had since 1905 maintained effective economic control. When the moderate government of Japan failed to take forceful steps to counter Chiang's ambitions, Japan's military leaders staged what was, in effect, a coup in the autumn of 1931seizing control of foreign policy from the weakened liberals. Only weeks later, they launched a major invasion of northern Manchuria.

The American government had few options. For a while, Secretary of State Henry Stimson (who had served as secretary of war under Taft) continued to hope that Japanese moderates would regain control of the Tokyo government and halt the invasion. The militarists, however, remained in command; and by the beginning of 1932, the conquest of Manchuria was complete. Hoover permitted Stimson to issue warnings to Japan and attempt to use moral suasion to end the crisis. He forbade him, however, to cooperate with the League of Nations in imposing economic sanctions against the Japanese. Stimson's only real tool in dealing with the Manchurian invasion was a refusal to grant diplomatic recognition to the new Japanese territories. Japan was unconcerned and early in 1932 expanded its aggression farther into China, attacking the city of Shanghai and killing thousands of civilians.

By the time Hoover left office early in 1933, therefore, it was clear that the international system the United States had attempted to create in the 1920sa system based on voluntary cooperation among nations and on an American refusal to commit itself to the interests of other countrieshad collapsed. The United States faced a choice. It could adopt a more energetic form of internationalism and enter into firmer and more meaningful associations with other nations. Or it could resort to nationalism and rely on its own devices for dealing with its problems. For the next six years, it experimented with elements of both approaches.

Isolationism and Internationalism

The administration of Franklin Roosevelt faced, therefore, a dual challenge as it entered office in 1933. It had to deal with the worst economic crisis in the nation's history; and it had to deal as well with the effects of a decaying international structure. The two problems were not unrelated. It was the worldwide Depression itself that was producing much of the political chaos throughout the globe; and it was partly in response to the economic problems of the 1930s that the highly nationalistic, dangerously belligerent new governments were emerging.

Through most of the 1930s, however, the United States was unwilling to make more than the faintest of gestures toward restoring stability to the world. Like many other peoples suffering economic hardship, Americans were turning inward. Yet the realities of world affairs were not to allow the nation to remain isolated for very longas Franklin Roosevelt realized earlier than many other Americans.

Depression Diplomacy

From Herbert Hoover, Roosevelt inherited a foreign policy less concerned with issues of war and peace than with matters of economic policy. And although the New Deal rejected some of the initiatives the Republicans had begun, it continued for several years to base its foreign policy almost entirely on the nation's immediate economic needs.

Perhaps Roosevelt's sharpest break with the policies of his predecessor was on the question of American economic relations with Europe. Hoover had argued that only by resolving the question of war debts and reinforcing the gold standard could the American economy hope to recover. He had, therefore, agreed to participate in the World Economic Conference, to be held in London in June 1933, to attempt to resolve these issues. By the time the conference assembled, however, Roosevelt had already become convinced that the gold value of the dollar had to be allowed to fall in order for American goods to be able to compete in world markets. Shortly after the conference convened, Roosevelt released a famous "bombshell" message repudiating the orthodox views of most of the delegates and rejecting any agreement on currency stabilization. The conference quickly dissolved without reaching agreement, and not until 1936 did the administration finally agree to new negotiations to stabilize Western currencies.

At the same time, Roosevelt was moving to abandon the commitments of the Hoover administration to settle the issue of war debts through international agreement. In effect, he simply let the issue die. Not only did he decline to negotiate a solution at the London Conference, but in April 1934 he signed a bill to forbid American banks from making loans to any nation in default on its debts. The result was to stop the old, circular system by which debt payments continued only by virtue of increasing American loans; within months, war-debt payments from every nation except Finland stopped for good.

If the new administration had no interest in international currency stabilization or settlement of war debts, it did have an active interest in improving America's position in world trade. Roosevelt approved the Reciprocal Trade Agreement Act of 1934, authorizing the administration to negotiate treaties lowering tariffs by as much as 50 percent in return for reciprocal reductions by other nations. The immediate effects of the reciprocal trade agreements negotiated as a result of the act were not impressive. Most agreements in the 1930s were carefully drafted to admit only products not competitive with American industry and agriculture. By 1939, Secretary of State Cordell Hull, a devoted advocate of free trade, had succeeded in negotiating new treaties with twenty-one countries. The result was an increase in American exports to them of nearly 40 percent, but imports into the United States continued to lag. Thus other nations were not obtaining the American currency needed to buy American products, and foreign debts to the United States increased considerably.

America and the Soviet Union

America's hopes of expanding its foreign trade produced particular efforts by the administration to improve its diplomatic posture in two areas: the Soviet Union and Latin America. The United States and Russia had viewed each other with mistrust and even hostility since the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, and the American government still had not officially recognized the Soviet regime by 1933. But powerful voices within the United States were urging a change in policyless because the revulsion with which most Americans viewed communism had diminished than because the Soviet Union appeared to be a possible source of important trade. The Russians, too, were eager for a new relationship. They were hoping for American cooperation in containing the power of Japan on Russia's southeastern flank. In November 1933, therefore, Soviet Foreign Minister Maxim Litvinov reached an agreement with the president in Washington. The Soviets would cease their propaganda efforts in the United States and protect American citizens in Russia; in return, the United States would recognize the communist regime.

Despite this promising beginning, however, relations with the Soviet Union soon soured once again. American trade failed to establish a foothold in Russia, disappointing hopes in the United States; and the American government did little to reassure the Soviets that it was interested in stopping Japanese expansion in Asia, dousing expectations in Russia. By the end of 1934, the Soviet Union and the United States were once again viewing each other with considerable mistrust. And Stalin, having abandoned whatever hopes he might once have had of cooperation with America, was beginning to consider making agreements of his own with the fascist governments of Japan and Germany.

The Good Neighbor Policy

Somewhat more successful were American efforts to enhance both diplomatic and economic relations with Latin America through what became known as the "Good Neighbor Policy." Latin America was one of the most important targets of the new policy of trade reciprocity, and the United States succeeded during the 1930s in increasing both exports to and imports from the other nations of the Western Hemisphere by over 100 percent. Closely tied to these new economic relationships was a new American attitude toward intervention in Latin America. The Hoover administration had unofficially abandoned the earlier American practice of using military force to compel Latin American governments to repay debts, respect foreign investments, or otherwise behave "responsibly." The Roosevelt administration went further. At the Inter-American Conference in Montevideo in December 1933, Secretary of State Hull signed a formal convention declaring: "No state has the right to intervene in the internal or external affairs of another." Roosevelt respected that pledge throughout his years in office, refusing to use force against Latin American governments even in the face of occasionally strong domestic pressure.

The Good Neighbor Policy did not mean, however, that the United States had abandoned its influence in Latin America. On the contrary, it had simply replaced one form of leverage with another. Instead of military force, Americans would now use economic influence. The new reliance on economic pressures eased tensions between the United States and its neighbors considerably, eliminating the most abrasive and conspicuous irritants in the relationship. It did little, however, to stem the growing American domination of the Latin American economy.

The Rise of Isolationism

The first years of the Roosevelt administration marked not only the death of Hoover's hopes for international economic agreements. They marked, too, the end of any hopes for world peace through treaties and disarmament. That the international arrangements of the 1920s were no longer suitable for the world of the 1930s became obvious in the first months of the Roosevelt presidency, when the new administration attempted to stimulate movement toward world disarmament. The arms control conference in Geneva had been meeting, without result, since 1932; and in May 1933, Roosevelt attempted to spur it to action by submitting a new American proposal for arms reductions. Negotiations stalled and then broke down on the Roosevelt proposal; and only a few months later, first Hitler and then Mussolini withdrew from the talks altogether. The Geneva Conference, it was clear, was a failure. Two years later, Japan withdrew from the London Naval Conference, which was attempting to draw up an agreement to continue the limitations on naval armaments negotiated at the Washington Conference of 1921.

Faced with a choice between more active efforts to stabilize the world or more energetic attempts to isolate the nation from it, most Americans unhesitatingly chose the latter. Support for isolationism emerged from many quarters. Old Wilsonian internationalists had grown disillusioned with the League of Nations and its inability to stop Japanese aggression in Asia; internationalism, they were beginning to argue, had failed. Other Americans were listening to the argument that powerful business interests Wall Street, munitions makers, and othershad tricked the United States into participating in World War I. An investigation by a Senate committee chaired by Senator Gerald Nye of Colorado revealed exorbitant profiteering and blatant tax evasion by many corporations during the war, and it suggested that bankers had pressured Wilson to intervene so as to protect their loans abroad.

Roosevelt himself shared some of the suspicions voiced by the isolationists and claimed to be impressed by the findings of the Nye investigation. Nevertheless, he continued to hope for at least a modest American role in maintaining world peace. In 1935, he proposed to the Senate a treaty to make the United States a member of the World Courta treaty that would have expanded America's symbolic commitment to internationalism without increasing its actual responsibilities in any important way. Nevertheless, isolationist opposition (spurred by a passionate broadcast by Father Coughlin on the eve of the Senate vote) resulted in the defeat of the treaty. It was a devastating political blow to the president, and he would not soon again attempt to challenge the isolationist tide.

That tide seemed to grow stronger with every passing month. Through the summer of 1935, it became clear to the world that Mussolini's Italy was preparing to invade Ethiopia in an effort to expand its colonial holdings in Africa. Fearing that a general European war would ensue, American legislators began to design legal safeguards to prevent the United States from being dragged into the conflict. The result was the Neutrality Act of 1935.

The 1935 act, and the Neutrality Acts of 1936 and 1937 that followed, were designed to prevent a recurrence of the events that many Americans now believed had pressured the United States into World War I. The 1935 law established a mandatory arms embargo against both victim and aggressor in any military conflict and empowered the president to warn American citizens that they might travel on the ships of warring nations only at their own risk. Thus, isolationists believed, the "protection of neutral rights" could not again become an excuse for American intervention in war. The 1936 Neutrality Act renewed these provisions. And in 1937, with world conditions growing even more precarious, Congress passed a yet more stringent measure. The new Neutrality Act established the so-called cash-and-carry policy, by which belligerents could purchase only nonmilitary goods from the United States and had to pay cash and ship their purchases themselves.

The American stance of militant neutrality was reinforced in October 1935 when Mussolini finally launched his long-anticipated attack on Ethiopia. When the League of Nations protested, Italy simply resigned from the organization, completed its conquest of Ethiopia, and formed an alliance (the "Axis") with Nazi Germany. Americans responded to the news with renewed determination to isolate themselves from European instability. Two-thirds of those responding to public-opinion polls at the time opposed any American action to deter aggression.

Isolationist sentiment showed its strength once again in 1936-1937 in response to the civil war in Spain. The Falangists of General Francisco Franco, a group much like the Italian fascists, revolted in July 1936 against the existing government, a moderate constitutional monarchy. Hitler and Mussolini supported Franco, both vocally and with weapons and supplies. Some individual Americans traveled to Spain to assist the republican cause (see above, p. 717); but the United States government joined with Britain and France in an agreement to offer no assistance to either sidealthough all three governments were sympathetic to the loyalists. In effect, then, the agreement denied what might otherwise have been crucial aid to the anti-Franco forces.

Growing Dangers

Franklin Roosevelt, in the meantime, was viewing the events of 1935 and 1936 with alarm. Slowly, cautiously, he attempted to challenge the grip of the isolationists on the nation's foreign policy; yet for a time, it seemed to be a hopeless cause. The United States appeared unable to do more than watch as a series of new dangers emerged that brought the world closer to war.

Particularly disturbing was the deteriorating situation in Asia, where the growth of Japanese power was becoming a direct threat to international stability. Japan's aggressive designs against China had been clear since the invasion of Manchuria in 1931. In the summer of 1937, Tokyo launched an even broader assault, attacking China's five northern provinces. The United States could not, Roosevelt believed, allow the Japanese aggression to go unremarked or unpunished. In a speech in Chicago in October 1937, therefore, the president warned forcefully of the dangers that Japanese aggression posed to world peace. Aggressors, he proclaimed, should be "quarantined" by the international community to prevent the contagion of war from spreading.

The president was deliberately vague about what such a "quarantine" would mean; and there is evidence that he was contemplating nothing more drastic than a break in diplomatic relations with Japan, that he was not considering economic or military sanctions. Nevertheless, public response to the speech was disturbingly hostile. As a result, Roosevelt drew back. Although his strong words encouraged the British government to call a conference in Brussels to discuss the crisis in Asia, the United States refused to make any commitments to collective action; and the conference produced no agreement.

Only months later, another episode gave renewed evidence of how formidable the obstacles to Roosevelt's efforts remained. On December 12, 1937, Japanese aviators bombed and sank the U.S. gunboat Panay as it sailed the Yangtze River in China. The attack was almost undoubtedly deliberate. It occurred in broad daylight, with clear visibility; and a large American flag had been painted conspicuously on the Panay's deck. Even so, the American public seized eagerly on Japanese protestations that the bombing had been an accident and pressured the administration to accept Japan's apologies and overlook the attack.

The Failure of Munich

In the meantime, Roosevelt was unable to find any politically acceptable way to increase American influence in Europe. It was not yet clear, moreover, that he believed the United States should become involved there in any case, even though the forces of war were rapidly gathering momentum. In 1936, Hitler had moved the now powerful German army into the Rhineland, rearming an area that France had, in effect, controlled since World War I. In March 1938, German forces marched into Austria; and Hitler proclaimed a union (or Anschluss) between Austria, his native land, and Germany, his adopted one. Neither in America nor in most of Europe was there much more than a murmur of opposition.

The Austrian invasion, however, soon created another crisis; for Hitler had by now occupied territory surrounding three sides of western Czechoslovakia, a region he dreamed of annexing to provide Germany with the Lebensraum (living space) he believed it needed. In September 1938, he demanded that Czechoslovakia cede to him part of that region, the Sudetenland, an area on the Austro-German border in which many ethnic Germans lived. Czechoslovakia, which possessed substantial military power of its own, was prepared to fight rather than submit. But it realized it could not hope for success without assistance from other European nations. That assistance it did not receive. Most Western nations, including the United States, were appalled at the prospect of another war and were willing to pay almost any price to settle the crisis peacefully. On September 29, Hitler met with the leaders of France and Great Britain at Munich in an effort to resolve the crisis. The French and British agreed to accept the German demands in Czechoslovakia in return for Hitler's promise to expand no farther. "This is the last territorial claim I have to make in Europe," the Fuhrer solemnly declared. And Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned to England to a hero's welcome, assuring his people that the agreement ensured "peace in our time." Among those who had cabled him with encouragement at Munich was Franklin Roosevelt.

The Munich accords were the most prominent element of a policy that came to be known as "appeasement" and that came to be identified (not altogether fairly) almost exclusively with Chamberlain. Whoever was to blame, however, it became clear almost immediately that the policy was a failure. In March 1939, Hitler occupied the remaining areas of Czechoslovakia, violating the Munich agreement unashamedly. And in April, he began issuing threats against Poland. At that point, both Britain and France gave assurances to the Polish government that they would come to its assistance in case of an invasion; they even flirted, too late, with the Stalinist regime in Russia, attempting to draw it into a mutual defense agreement. Stalin, however, had already decided that he could expect no protection from the West; he had, after all, not even been invited to attend the Munich Conference. Accordingly, he signed a nonaggression pact with Hitler in August 1939, freeing the Germans for the moment from the danger of a two-front war.

For a few months, Hitler continued to try to frighten the Poles into submitting to German rule. When that failed, he staged an incident on the border to allow him to claim that Germany had been attacked; and on September 1, 1939, he launched a full-scale invasion of Poland. Britain and France, true to their pledges, declared war on Germany two days later. World War II had begun.

Neutrality Tested

'This nation will remain a neutral nation," the president declared shortly after the hostilities began in Europe, "but I cannot ask that every American remain neutral in thought as well." It was a statement that stood in stark and deliberate contrast to Woodrow Wilson's 1914 plea that the nation remain neutral in both deed and thought; and it was clear from the start that among those whose opinions were decidedly unneutral in 1939 was the president himself. There was never any question that both he and the majority of the American people favored Britain, France, and the other Allied nations in the contest. The question was how much the United States was prepared to do to assist them.

At the very least, Roosevelt believed, the United States should make armaments available to the Allied armies to help them counteract the remarkably productive German munitions industry. As a result, in September 1939, he asked Congress for a revision of the Neutrality Acts. The original measures had forbidden the sale of American weapons to any nation engaged in war; Roosevelt wanted the arms embargo lifted. Powerful isolationist opposition forced him to accept a weaker revision than he would have liked; as passed by Congress, the 1939 measure maintained the prohibition on American ships entering war zones. It did, however, permit belligerents to purchase arms on the same cash-and-carry basis that the earlier Neutrality Acts had established for the sale of nonmilitary materials.

For a time, it was possible to believe that little more would be necessary. After the German armies had quickly subdued Poland, the war in Europe settled into a long, quiet lull that lasted through the winter and spring-a "phony war," as it was beginning to be termed. The only real fighting during this period occurred not between the Allies and the Axis, but between Russia and its neighbors. Taking advantage of the situation in the West, the Soviet Union overran first the small Baltic republics of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania and then, in late November, Finland. Americans were, for the most part, outraged; but neither Congress nor the president was willing to do more than impose a "moral embargo" on the shipment of armaments to Russia. By March 1940, the Soviet advance was complete. The American sanctions had had no effect.

Whatever illusions Americans had harbored about the war in Western Europe were shattered in the spring of 1940 when Germany launched an invasion to the westfirst attacking Denmark and Norway, sweeping next across the Netherlands and Belgium, and driving finally deep into the heart of France. Allied efforts proved futile against the Nazi blitzkrieg, and Americans watched in horror as one stronghold after another fell into German hands. On June 10, Mussolini brought Italy into the war, invading France from the south as Hitler was attacking from the north, and prompting Roosevelt to declare angrily: "The hand that held the dagger has struck it into the back of its neighbor." On June 22, finally, France fell to the German onslaught. Nazi troops marched into Paris; a new collaborationist regime began to assemble in Vichy; and in all Europe, only the shattered remnants of the British army, which had been miraculously rescued from the beaches of Dunkirk, remained to oppose the Axis forces.

Roosevelt had already begun to expand not only American aid to the Allies but preparations to resist a possible Nazi invasion of the United States. On May 16, he asked Congress for an additional $1 billion for defense (much of it for the construction of an enormous new fleet of warplanes) and received it quickly. With France tottering a few weeks later, he proclaimed that the United States would "extend to the opponents of force the material resources of this nation." And on May 15, Winston Churchill, the new British prime minister, sent Roosevelt the first of many long lists of requests for ships, armaments, and other assistance without which, he insisted, England could not long survive. Many Americans (including the United States ambassador to London, Joseph P.

Kennedy) argued that the British plight was already hopeless, that any aid to the English was a wasted effort. The president, however, disagreed and made the bold and dangerous decision to "scrape the bottom of the barrel" to make war materials available to Churchill. He even circumvented the cash-and-carry provisions of the Neutrality Act by trading fifty American destroyers (most of them left over from World War I) to England in return for the right to build American bases on British territory in the Western Hemisphere; and he returned to the factories a number of new airplanes purchased by the American government so that the British could buy them instead.

Roosevelt was able to take such steps in part because of a major shift in American public opinion. Before the invasion of France, most Americans had believed that a German victory in the war would not be a threat to the United States. By July, with France defeated and Britain threatened, more than 66 percent of the public (according to opinion polls) believed that Germany posed a direct threat to the United States. Congress was aware of the change and was becoming more willing to permit expanded American assistance to the Allies. It was also becoming more concerned about the need for internal preparations for war, and in September it approved the Burke-Wadsworth Act, inaugurating the first peacetime military draft in American history.

But while the forces of isolation may have weakened, they were far from dead. On the contrary, there began in the summer of 1940 a spirited and often vicious debate between those who advocated expanded American involvement in the war (who were termed, often inaccurately, "interventionists") and those who continued to insist on neutrality. The celebrated journalist William Allen White served as chairman of a new Committee to Defend America, whose members lobbied actively for increased American assistance to the Allies but opposed actual intervention. Others went so far as to urge an immediate declaration of war (a position that as yet had little public support) and in April created an organization of their own, the Fight for Freedom Committee. Opposing them was a powerful new lobby entitled the America First Committee, which attracted some of America's most prominent leaders. Its chairman was General Robert E. Wood, until recently the president of Sears Roebuck; and its membership included Charles Lindbergh, General Hugh Johnson, Senator Gerald Nye, and Senator Burton Wheeler. It won the editorial support of the Hearst chain and other influential newspapers; and it had at least the indirect support of a large proportion of the Republican party. (It also, inevitably, attracted a small fringe of Nazi sympathizers and anti-Semites.) The debate between the two sides was loud and bitter. Through the summer and fall of 1940, moreover, it was complicated by a presidential campaign.

The Third-Term Campaign

Much of the political drama of 1940 revolved around the question of Franklin Roosevelt's intentions. Would he break with tradition and run for an unprecedented third term? The president himself was deliberately coy and never publicly revealed his own wishes. But by refusing to withdraw from the contest, he made it impossible for any rival Democrat to establish a foothold within the party. And when, just before the Democratic Convention in July, he let it be known that he would accept a "draft" from his party, the issue was virtually settled. The Democrats quickly renominated him and even reluctantly swallowed his choice for vice president: Agriculture Secretary Henry A. Wallace, a man too liberal for the taste of many party leaders.

The Republicans, again, faced a far more difficult task. With Roosevelt effectively straddling the center of the defense debate, favoring neither the extreme isolationists nor the extreme interventionists, the Republicans had few viable alternatives. Their solution was to compete with the president on his own ground. Succumbing to the carefully orchestrated pressure of a remarkable grass-roots movement, they nominated for president a politically inexperienced businessman, Wendell Willkie. Both the candidate and the party platform took positions little different from Roosevelt's: They would keep the country out of war but would extend generous assistance to the Allies, Willkie was left, therefore, with the unenviable task of defeating Roosevelt by outmatching him in personal magnetism and by trying to arouse public fears of the dangers of an unprecedented third term. An appealing figure and a vigorous campaigner, he managed to evoke more public enthusiasm than any Republican candidate in decades. In the end, however, he was no match for Franklin Roosevelt. The election was closer than in either 1932 or 1936, but Roosevelt nevertheless won decisively. He received 55 percent of the popular vote to Willkie's 45 percent, and he won 449 electoral votes to Willkie's 82.

Neutrality Abandoned

With the election behind him and with the situation in Europe deteriorating, Roosevelt began in the last months of 1940 to make subtle but profound changes in the American role in the war. To the public, he claimed that he was simply continuing the now established policy of providing aid to the embattled Allies. In fact, that aid was taking new and far more decisive forms.

In December 1940, Great Britain was virtually bankrupt. No longer could the British meet the cash-and-carry requirements imposed by the Neutrality Acts; yet England's needs, Churchill insisted, were greater than ever. The president, therefore, suggested a method that would "eliminate the dollar sign" from all arms transactions while still, he hoped, pacifying those who opposed blatant American intervention in the war. The new system was labeled "lend-lease." It would allow the president not only to sell but to lend or lease armaments to any nation deemed "vital to the defense of the United States." In other words, America could funnel weapons to England on the basis of no more than Britain's promise to return them when the war was over. Isolationists attacked the measure bitterly, arguing (correctly) that it was simply a device to tie the United States more closely to the Allies; but Congress enacted the bill by wide margins.

With lend-lease established, Roosevelt soon faced another serious problem: ensuring that the American supplies would actually reach Great Britain. Shipping lanes in the Atlantic had become extremely dangerous, as German submarines destroyed as much as a half-million tons of shipping each month. The British navy was losing ships more rapidly than it could replace them and was finding it difficult to transport materials across the Atlantic from America. Secretary of War Henry Stimson (who had been Hoover's secretary of state and who returned to the cabinet at Roosevelt's request in 1940) argued that the United States should itself convoy vessels to England; but Roosevelt decided to rely instead on the concept of "hemispheric defense." He argued that the western Atlantic was a neutral zone and the responsibility of the American nations. By July 1941, therefore, American ships were patrolling the ocean as far east as Iceland, escorting convoys of merchant ships, and radioing information to British vessels about the location of Nazi submarines.

At first, Germany did little to challenge these obviously hostile American actions. By September 1941, however, the situation had changed. Nazi forces had invaded the Soviet Union in June of that year, driving quickly and forcefully deep into Russian territory. When the Soviets did not surrender, as many had predicted, Roosevelt persuaded Congress to extend lend-lease privileges to themthe first step toward creating a new relationship with Stalin that would ultimately lead to a formal Soviet-American alliance. Now American industry was providing the lifeblood to Hitler's foes on two fronts, and the navy was playing a more active role than ever in protecting the flow of goods to Europe. In September, Nazi submarines began a concerted campaign against American vessels. Early that month, a German U-boat fired on the American destroyer Greer (which was radioing the U-boat's position to the British at the time). Roosevelt responded by ordering American ships to fire on German submarines "on sight." In October, Nazi submarines actually hit two destroyers and sank one of them, the Reuben James, killing many American sailors in the process. An enraged Congress now voted approval of a measure allowing the United States to arm its merchant vessels and to sail all the way into belligerent ports. The United States had, in effect, launched a naval war against Germany.

At the same time, a series of meetings, some private and one public, were tying the United States and Great Britain ever more closely together. In April 1941, senior military officers of the two nations had met in secret and agreed on a joint strategy to be followed were the United States to enter the war. In August, Roosevelt met with Winston Churchill aboard a British vessel anchored off the coast of Newfoundland. The president made no military commitments, but he did join with Churchill in releasing a document that became known as the Atlantic Charter, in which the two nations set out "certain common principles" on which to base "a better future for the world." It was, in only vaguely disguised form, a statement of war aims that called openly for, among other things, "the final destruction of the Nazi tyranny."

By the fall of 1941, therefore, it seemed only a matter of time before the United States became an official belligerent. Roosevelt remained convinced that public opinion would support a declaration of war only in the event of an actual enemy attack. But an attack seemed certain to come, if not in the Atlantic, then in the Pacific.

The Road to Pearl Harbor

The Japanese had not sat idle during the crisis in Europe. With Great Britain preoccupied with Germany, and with Soviet attention diverted to the west, Japan sensed an unparalleled opportunity to extend its empire in the Pacific. And in September 1940, Japan signed the Tripartite Pact, a loose defensive alliance with Germany and Italy that seemed to extend the Axis into Asia. (In reality, the European Axis powers never developed a very strong relationship with Japan.)

Roosevelt had already displayed his animosity toward the Japanese by harshly denouncing their continuing assault on China and by terminating a longstanding American commercial treaty with the Tokyo government. Still the Japanese drive continued. In July 1941, imperial troops moved into Indochina and seized the capital of Vietnam. The United States, having broken Japanese codes, knew that their next target would be the Dutch East Indies; and when Tokyo failed to respond to Roosevelt's stern warnings, the president froze all Japanese assets in the United States, severely limiting Japan's ability to purchase needed American supplies.

Tokyo now faced a choice. It would either have to repair relations with the United States to restore the flow of supplies, or it would have to find those supplies elsewhere, most notably by seizing British and Dutch possessions in the Pacific. At first, the Tokyo government seemed willing to compromise. The Japanese prime minister, Prince Konoye, had begun negotiations with the United States even before the freezing of his country's assets; and in August he increased the pace by requesting a personal meeting with President Roosevelt. On the advice of Secretary Hull, who feared that Konoye lacked sufficient power within his own government to be able to enforce any agreement, Roosevelt replied that he would meet with the prime minister only if Japan would give guarantees in advance that it would respect the territorial integrity of China. Konoye could give no such assurances, and the negotiations collapsed. In October, the militants in Tokyo forced Konoye out of office and replaced him with the leader of the war party, General Hideki Tojo. There seemed little alternative now to war.

The Tojo government maintained for several weeks a pretense of wanting to continue negotiations. On November 20, 1941, Tokyo proposed a modus vivendi highly favorable to itself and sent its diplomats in Washington to the State Department to discuss it. But Tokyo had already decided that it would not yield on the question of China, and Washington had made clear that it would accept nothing less than a reversal of that policy. Hull rejected the Japanese overtures out of hand; on November 27, he told Secretary of War Henry Stimson, "I have washed my hands of the Japanese situation, and it is now in the hands of you and [Secretary of the Navy Frank] Knox, the Army and Navy." He was not merely speculating. American intelligence had already decoded Japanese messages which made clear that war was imminent, that after November 29 an attack would be only a matter of days.

What Washington did not know was where the attack would take place. Most officials were convinced that the Japanese would move first not against American territory but against British or Dutch possessions to the south. American intelligence took note of a Japanese naval task force that began sailing east from the Kurile Islands in the general direction of Hawaii on November 25; and a routine warning was sent to the United States naval facility at Pearl Harbor, near Honolulu. Officials were paying far more attention, however, to a large Japanese convoy moving southward through the China Sea. A combination of confusion and miscalculation caused the government to overlook clear indications that Japan intended a direct attack on American forces.

At 7:55 a.m. on Sunday, December 7, 1941, a wave of Japanese bombers attacked the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor. A second wave came an hour later. Because the military commanders in Hawaii had taken no precautions against such an attack, allowing ships to remain bunched up defenselessly in the harbor and airplanes to remain parked in rows on airstrips, the results of the raid were catastrophic. Within two hours, the United States lost 8 battleships, 3 cruisers, 4 other vessels, 188 airplanes, and several vital shore installations. More than 2,000 soldiers and sailors died, and another 1,000 were injured. The Japanese suffered only light losses.

American forces were now greatly diminished in the Pacific (although by sheer accident, none of the four American aircraft carriersthe heart of the Pacific fleethad been at Pearl Harbor on December 7). Nevertheless, the raid on Pearl Harbor did overnight what more than two years of effort by Franklin Roosevelt had been unable to do: It unified the American people in a fervent commitment to war. On December 8, the president traveled to Capitol Hill, where he grimly addressed a joint session of Congress: "Yesterday, December 7, 1941a date which will live in infamythe United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by the naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan." Within four hours, the Senate unanimously and the House 388 to 1 approved a declaration of war against Japan. Three days later, Germany and Italy, Japan's European allies, declared war on the United States; and on the same day, December 11, Congress reciprocated without a dissenting vote. For the second time in less than twenty-five years, the United States had joined in a terrible international conflagration.

War on Two Fronts

Whatever political disagreements and social tensions the war may have produced among the American people, there was from the beginning a remarkable unity of opinion about the conflict itself"a unity," as one member of Congress proclaimed shortly after Pearl Harbor, "never before witnessed in this country." But that unity and confidence were severely tested in the first, troubled months of 1942. For despite the impressive display of patriotism and the dramatic flurry of activity, the war was going very badly. Britain appeared ready to collapse. The Soviet Union was staggering. One after another, Allied strongholds in the Pacific were falling to the forces of Japan. The first task facing the United States, therefore, was less to achieve victory than to stave off defeat.

Containing the Japanese

Ten hours after the strike at Pearl Harbor, Japanese airplanes attacked the American airfields at Manila in the Philippines, destroying much of America's remaining air power in the Pacific. Three days later Guam, an American possession, fell to Japan; then Wake Island and Hong Kong. The great British fortress of Singapore in Malaya surrendered in February 1942, the Dutch East Indies in March, Burma in April. In the Philippines, exhausted Filipino and American troops, under the command of General Douglas MacArthur, finally abandoned the islands on May 6. MacArthur's defiant promise, "I shall return," seemed at the time a forlorn hope.

Alone among the warring nations, the United States was committed to major military endeavors in both Europe and the Pacific. But despite the setbacks in the struggle with Japan, American policymakers remained committed to a decision they had made in 1940. The defeat of Germany would be the nation's first priority. This meant that American forces in the Pacific would at first concentrate not so much on driving the Japanese from the areas it possessed as on defending scattered island territories not yet overcome by the Japanese onslaught. It would attempt not to defeat but to contain the Japanese.

After the Japanese conquest of the Philippines, American strategists planned two broad offensives. One, under the command of General MacArthur, would move north from Australia, through New Guinea, and eventually back to the Philippines. The other, under Admiral Chester Nimitz, would move west from Hawaii toward major Japanese island outposts in the central Pacific. Eventually, the two offensives would come together to invade Japan itself.

The first test of this strategy came just northwest of Australia, which in mid-1942 stood almost undefended. (Only weak outposts in southern New Guinea stood between the Australian mainland and the Japanese forces.) There the Allies at last achieved their first important victory. In the Battle of Coral Sea on May 7-8, 1942, American aircraft carriers and ground troops turned back the hitherto unstoppable Japanese forces.

A month later, there was an even more important turning point northwest of Hawaii. The American navy had broken the Japanese codes and knew that an enormous enemy offensive was taking shape there; it rushed every available airplane and vessel into the area. An enormous battle raged for four days, June 3-6, 1942, near the small American outpost at Midway Island. Both sides suffered great losses, but the encounter was, in the end, a significant American victory. Nimitz's forces had not only prevented the Japanese from securing their original objectivesthe capture of Midway and the destruction of what was left of American naval power in the Pacific. They had also destroyed four Japanese aircraft carriers (the United States lost only one) and regained control of the central Pacific for the United States.

The Americans took the offensive for the first time several months later in the southern Solomon Islands, to the east of New Guinea, where the Japanese were establishing a base for air raids against American communications with Australia. In August 1942, American forces assaulted three of the islands: Gavutu, Tulagi, and Guadalcanal. A struggle of unprecedented ferocity developed at Guadalcanal and continued for six months, inflicting heavy losses on both sides. In the end, however, the Japanese were forced to abandon the islandand with it their last chance of launching an effective offensive to the south.

In both the southern and central Pacific, therefore, the initiative had by mid-1943 shifted to the United States. The Japanese advance had been halted. The Americans, with aid from the Australians and the New Zealanders, now began the slow, arduous process of moving toward the Philippines and, ultimately, Japan itself.

Holding Off the Germans

In the European war, the United States was less able to shape military operations to its liking. It had to cooperate with Britain and with the exiled "Free French" forces in the west; and it had to conciliate its new ally, the Soviet Union, which was engaged in a savage conflict with Hitler in the east. The army chief of staff, George C. Marshall, supported a plan for a major Allied invasion of France across the English Channel in the spring of 1943; and he placed a hitherto little known general, Dwight D. Eisenhower, in charge of planning the operation. But Marshall and Eisenhower faced strong and conflicting pressures from their allies. The Soviet Union, which was absorbing (as it would throughout the war) the brunt of the German war effort, was desperate for relief and wanted the Allied invasion to proceed at the earliest possible moment. The British, however, wanted to wait. Winston Churchill, in particular, argued strenuously for a series of Allied offensives around the edges of the Nazi empirein northern Africa and southern Europebefore undertaking the major invasion in France itself.

The conflicting pressures came to a head in the spring of 1942. By then, the German Afrika Korps under the command of General Erwin Rommel had advanced to El Alamein, only seventy-five miles west of Alexandria, Egypt, threatening the Suez Canal and the Middle East, still under British control. At the same time, German armies in Russia were plunging toward the Caucasus. In May the Russian foreign minister, Vyacheslav Molotov, visited Washington to demand an immediate second front that would divert at least forty German divisions from Russia; otherwise, he warned, the Soviet effort might collapse. A month later, however, Churchill arrived in Washington to urge an invasion of North Africa instead. Roosevelt knew that a Mediterranean offensive would be of less value than an invasion of the Continent, but he also knew that such an invasion would require many months of preparation. Eager to engage American forces in combat as soon as possible, he supported Churchill and ordered American forces to join the British in the defense of northern Africa. At the end of October 1942, the British opened a counteroffensive against Rommel at El Alamein and sent the Afrika Korps reeling back from Egypt. On November 8, Anglo-American forces landed at Oran and Algiers in Algeria and at Casablanca in Moroccoareas under the Nazi-controlled French government at Vichy. A controversial deal with French admiral Jean Darlan (a notorious collaborator with the Nazis) halted what was for a time fierce fighting between Vichy forces and the Americans at Casablanca and enabled Eisenhower to begin moving his forces east toward Rommel. The Germans, having moved west from Egypt across Libya, now threw the full weight of their forces in Africa against the inexperienced Americans and inflicted a serious defeat on them at the Kasserine Pass in Tunisia. General George S. Patton, however, regrouped the American troops and began an effective counteroffensive. With the help of Allied air and naval power and of British forces attacking from the east under Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery (the hero of El Alamein), the American offensive finally drove the last Germans from Africa in May 1943.

The North African campaign, combined with continuing shipping losses from German submarine attacks in the Atlantic, had tied up so large a proportion of the Allied resources that the planned May 1943 cross-channel invasion of France had to be postponed, despite angry complaints from the Soviet Union. By now, however, the threat of a Soviet collapse seemed much diminished; for during the winter . ofl942-1943, the Red Army had successfully held off a major German assault at Stalingrad in southern Russia. Hitler had committed such enormous forces to the battle, and had suffered such appalling losses, that his ability to continue his eastern offensive was now shattered.

The Soviet victory made it possible, then, for Roosevelt to agree to Churchill's plan for an Allied invasion of Sicily, a plan the two men worked out together in January 1943 at a meeting in Casablanca. General Marshall opposed the plan, fearing that it would further delay the vital invasion of France. But Churchill prevailed with his argument that the operation in Sicily might knock Italy out of the war and force the Germans to tie up many divisions in defense of Italy and the Balkans. On the night ofjuly 9, 1943, American and British armies landed in the extreme southeast of Sicily; thirty-eight days later, they had conquered the island and begun moving onto the Italian mainland. In the face of these setbacks, Mussolini's government collapsed and the dictator himself fled north to Germany. But although Mussolini's successor, Marshal Pietro Badoglio, moved quickly to commit Italy to the Allies, Germany moved eight divisions into the country and established a powerful defensive line south of Rome. The Allied offensive on the Italian peninsula, which began on September 3, 1943, soon bogged down against the powerful, entrenched Nazi forces, particularly after a serious Allied setback at Monte Cassino early in 1944. Not until May 1944 did the Allies finally capture Cassino and resume their northward advance. On June 4, 1944, they captured Rome.

The invasion of Italy contributed to the Allied war effort in several important ways, but on the whole it was probably a strategic mistake. It delayed the invasion of France by as much as a year. It deeply embittered the Soviet Union, which was convinced that America and Britain were deliberately delaying in order to force the Russians to absorb the bulk of the German offensive. And it gave the Soviets time to reverse the course of battle and begin moving toward the countries of Eastern Europe.

America and the Holocaust

In the midst of this intensive fighting, the leaders of the American government found themselves confronted with one of history's great tragedies: the Nazi campaign to exterminate the Jews of Europethe Holocaust. As early as 1942, high officials in Washington had incontrovertible evidence that Hitler's forces were rounding up Jews and others from all over Europe, transporting them to concentration camps in eastern Germany and Poland, and systematically murdering them. (The death toll would ultimately reach 6 million Jews and approximately 4 million others.) News of the atrocities was reaching the public as well, and pressure began to build for some Allied response, some effort to end the killing or at least to rescue some of the surviving Jews.

The American government consistently resisted almost all such entreaties. Although Allied bombers were flying missions within a few miles of the most notorious death camp at Auschwitz in Poland, pleas that the planes try to destroy the crematoria at the camp were rejected as militarily unfeasible. So were similar requests that the Allies try to destroy railroad lines leading to the camp.

The United States also resisted entreaties that it admit large numbers of the Jewish refugees attempting to escape the horrors of Europe. One ship, the St. Louis, arrived in Miami carrying nearly 1,000 escaped German Jews, only to be refused entry and forced to return to Europe. Throughout the war, the State Department did not even use up the number of visas permitted by law; almost 90 percent of the quota remained untouched. One opportunity after another to assist the imperiled Jews was either ignored or rejected.

In fairness to American leaders, there was probably little they could have done to save the majority of Hitler's victims. But more forceful action by the United States (and Britain, which was even less amenable to Jewish requests for assistance) might well have saved at least some lives. The failure to take such action is difficult to understand; but in the midst of a terrible conflict, policymakers found it possible to justify abandoning the Jews to their fate by concentrating their attention solely on the larger goal of winning the war. Any diversion of energy and attention to other purposes, they apparently believed, would distract them from the overriding goal of victory.

The American People in Wartime

"War is no longer simply a battle between armed forces in the field," an American government report of 1939 concluded. "It is a struggle in which each side strives to bring to bear against the enemy the coordinated power of every individual and of every material resource at its command. The conflict extends from the soldier in the front line to the citizen in the remotest hamlet in the rear."

The United States had experienced the demands of "total war" before. But never had the nation experienced so consuming a military experience as World War II. American armed forces engaged in combat around the globeand not just for a few months, as during World War I, but for nearly four years. American society, in the meantime, experienced changes and distortions that reached into virtually every corner of the nation.

The War Economy

World War II had its most profound impact on American domestic life by ending at last the Great Depression. By the middle of 1941, the economic problems of the 1930sunemployment, deflation, industrial sluggishnesshad virtually vanished before the great wave of wartime industrial expansion.

The most important agent of the new prosperity was federal spending, which within months was pumping far more money into the economy than all the New Deal relief agencies combined had done. In 1939, the federal budget had been $9 billion; by 1945, it had risen to $100 billion. Largely as a result, the gross national product soared: from $91 billion in 1939 to $166 billion in 1945. The index of industrial production doubled. Seventeen million newjobs were created.

Perhaps most striking was the increase in personal income. In New York, the average family income in 1938 had been $2,760; by 1942, it had risen to $4,044. In Boston, the increase was from $2,455 to $3,618; in Washington, D.C., from $2,227 to $5,316. There were, of course, limits on what the recipients of these expanded incomes could do with their money. Many consumer goodsautomobiles, radios, and appliances, even many types of food and clothingwere in short supply. Wage earners diverted much of their new affluence, therefore, into savings, which would later help keep the economic boom alive in the postwar years.

The war years not only increased the total wealth of the nation; it produced the only significant change of the century in the distribution of wealth among the population. Almost everyone's income grew during the war; but the incomes of the poorest 20 percent rose by nearly 70 percentsubstantially more than those of the wealthiest 20 percent, which rose by only 20 percent. Farmers, whose earnings had risen very slightly if at all during the previous two decades, saw their incomes rise by 400 percent. Industrial workers enjoyed somewhat less substantial gains; union leaders agreed to limit wage increases to 15 percent during the war. But workers who had been unemployed or underemployed in the 1930s were now fully employed, often working substantial overtime.

Labor and the War

Instead of the prolonged and debilitating unemployment that had been the most troubling feature of the Depression economy, the war created a serious labor shortage. The armed forces diverted over 15 million men and women from the civilian work force at the same time that the demand for labor was rising rapidly. Nevertheless, the civilian work force jumped from 46.5 million at the beginning of the war to over 53 million at the end. The 7 million who had previously been unemployed accounted for some of the increase; the employment of many people previously considered inappropriate to be part of the work forcethe very young, the elderly, and perhaps most important, several million womenaccounted for the rest of it.

The war gave an enormous boost to union membership, which rose from about 10.5 million in 1941 to over 13 million in 1945. But it also created important new restrictions on the ability of unions to win increased wages for their members. The government was determined to prevent strikes, which would disrupt war production, and to forestall large wage increases, which might contribute to inflation. It managed to win from union leaders important concessions on both issues. One was the "no-strike" pledge, by which unions agreed not to stop production in wartime. Another was the so-called Little Steel formula, which set a 15 percent limit on wage increases. That limit was the result of negotiations conducted by the National War Labor Board, which included representatives of labor, management, and government and which was charged with settling all labor disputes. In return for these agreements, the government provided labor with a "maintenance-of-membership" agreement, which promised that the thousands of new workers pouring into defense plants would be automatically enrolled in unions that had previously established bargaining rights there. The agreement ensured the continued health of the union organizations, but in return workers had to give up the right to demand major economic gains during the war.

Many rank-and-file union members, and some union leaders, resented the restrictions imposed on them by the government and the labor hierarchy. Despite the no-strike pledge, there were nearly 15,000 work stoppages during the war. When the United Mine Workers defied the government by striking in May 1943, Congress reacted by passing a month later, over Roosevelt's veto, the Smith-Connally Act (War Labor Disputes Act), which required unions to wait thirty days before striking and empowered the president to seize a struck war plant. A far more drastic proposal, a bill to conscript workers into government service, made considerable progress in Congress before the administration managed to block it. In the meantime, public animosity toward labor rose rapidly, and many states passed laws to limit union power. By the end of the war, pressure was growing for federal action to limit the influence of the unions.

Stabilizing the Boom

The fear of deflation, which had been the central concern of most American economists in the 1930s, gave way during the war to an at times equally serious fear of inflation. Fueling that fear was a rapid and destabilizing 25 percent increase in prices in the two years before Pearl Harbor.

In response to growing public concern, the Office of Price Administration (the war agency charged with stabilizing prices) began freezing prices and rents in certain areas of particularly rapid economic growth. But with farm prices still rising rapidly, the OPA's policies failed to reduce pressure from workers for further wage increases. In October 1942, therefore, Congress grudgingly responded to the president's request and passed the Anti-Inflation Act, which gave the administration authority to freeze agricultural prices, wages, salaries, and rents throughout the country.

The first director of the OP A, the vigorous New Dealer Leon Henderson, resigned exhausted and frustrated in mid-1943. To replace him, Roosevelt appointed Chester Bowles, a former advertising executive with remarkable administrative talents, who managed to hold the increase in living costs during the next two years to 1.4 percent. In part because of his success, inflation was a much less serious problem during World War II than it had been during World War I.

The OPA was never popular. There was widespread resentment of its "meddlesome" controls over wages and prices. And there was only grudging acquiescence in its complicated system of rationing scarce consumer goods: coffee, sugar, meat, butter, canned goods, shoes, tires, gasoline, and fuel oil. Black-marketing and overcharging grew in proportions far beyond OPA policing capacity.

Among the most important methods of controlling inflation were the government's revenue-raising programs: borrowing and taxation. About half the revenues it needed the government borrowed from the American people, by selling $100 billion worth of bonds. Most of the rest it raised by radically increasing taxes on incomes. The Revenue Act of 1942, which Roosevelt hailed as "the greatest tax bill in American history," levied a 94 percent tax on the highest incomes; and for the first time, the income tax fell as well on those in lower income brackets. To simplify payment for these new millions, Congress enacted a withholding system of payroll deductions in 1943.

From 1941 to 1945, the federal government spent a total of $321 billiontwice as much as it had spent in the entire 150 years of its existence to that point, and ten times as much as the cost of World War I. The national debt rose from $49 billion in 1941 to $259 billion in 1945, yet the black warnings of national bankruptcy that had punctuated the New Deal years were almost entirely muted.

Mobilizing Production

It was production of the armaments, equipment, and supplies necessary for fighting the war that was responsible for the government spending, the industrial growth, and the economic problems of the war years. America's great productive capacity was its most important weapon in the fight against the Axis; it was, in the end, probably the decisive factor in the Allied victory. But that capacity, and its importance, also created difficult challenges, which the government was never entirely successful in meeting.

The search for an effective mechanism to mobilize the economy for war began as early as 1939 and continued for nearly four years. One failed agency after another attempted to bring order to the mobilization effort: the National Defense Advisory Commission, the Office of Production Management, the Supply Priorities and Allocation Board. Finally, in January 1942, the president responded to widespread criticism by creating the War Production Board (WPB), under the direction of former Sears Roebuck executive Donald Nelson. In theory, the WPB was to be a "superagency," controlling government purchases of war materiel and supervising the allocation of materials and manpower. In fact, it never had as much authority as its World War I equivalent, the War Industries Board. And the genial Donald Nelson never displayed the administrative or political strength of his 1918 counterpart, Bernard Baruch.

Throughout its troubled history, therefore, the WPB found itself constantly outmaneuvered and frustrated. It was never able to win complete control over military purchases; the army and navy often circumvented the board entirely in negotiating contracts with producers. It was never able to satisfy the complaints of small business, which charged (correctly) that most contracts were going to large corporations. Gradually, the president transferred much of the authority he had originally delegated to Nelson to a new office located within the White House: the Office of War Mobilization, directed by a former South Carolina senator, James F. Byrnes. But the OWM was only modestly more successful than the WPB.

Despite the administrative problems, however, the war economy managed to meet almost all of the nation's critical war needs. Enormous new factory complexes were constructed in the space of a few months, many of them funded by the federal government's Defense Plants Corporation. An entire new industry producing synthetic rubber was created to make up for the loss of access to natural rubber in the Pacific. By the beginning of 1944, American factories were, in fact, producing more than the government needed. Their output was twice that of all the Axis countries combined. There were even complaints late in the war that military production was becoming excessive, that a limited resumption of civilian production should now begin. (The military staunchly and successfully opposed such demands.)

Blacks and the War

During World War I, many American blacks had eagerly seized the chance to serve in the armed forces, believing that their patriotic efforts would win them an enhanced position in postwar society. They had been cruelly disappointed. As World War II approached, blacks were again determined to use the conflict to improve the position of their racethis time, however, not by currying favor but by making demands.

In the summer of 1941, with preparedness efforts at their height, A. Philip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, an important black union, began to insist that the government require those companies receiving defense contracts to integrate their work forces. To mobilize support for the demand, Randolph planned a massive march on Washington, which threatened to bring more than 100,000 protesting blacks into the capital. Roosevelt, fearful of both the possibility of violence and the certainty of political embarrassment, finally persuaded Randolph to cancel the march in return for a promise to establish a Fair Employment Practices Commission. Its purpose was to investigate discrimination against blacks in war industries; and although its enforcement powers, and thus its effectiveness, were limited, it did mark an important step toward a government commitment to racial equality.

The economic realities of the war years greatly increased the migration of blacks from the rural areas of the South into the industrial cities, where there were suddenly factory jobs available in war plants. In the South, the migration produced white resentment and suspicion, including the false rumor among white homeowners that blacks were engaged in a conspiracy to deprive the region of domestic servants. In the North, the migration produced much more severe tensions. In Detroit in 1943, a violent race riot erupted when black families began moving into a new housing project near a Polish neighborhood. Thirty-four people died in the rioting, twenty-five of them blacks.

Despite such tensions, the leading black organizations redoubled their efforts during the war to challenge the system of segregation. The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), organized in 1943 by Randolph, mobilized mass popular resistance to discrimination in a way that the older, more conservative organizations had never done. Randolph, Bayard Rustin, James Farmer, and other, younger black leaders helped organize sit-ins and demonstrations in segregated theaters and restaurants. In 1944, they won a much publicized victory by forcing a Washington, D.C., restaurant to agree to serve blacks. In other areas, their victories were few. Nevertheless, the war years aroused a defiant public spirit among many blacks that would survive into the 1950s and help produce the civil-rights movement.

Racial agitation was most pronounced in civilian institutions, but the winds of change were blowing within the military as well. At first, the armed forces maintained their traditional practice of limiting blacks to the most menial assignments, keeping them in segregated training camps and units, and barring them entirely from the Marine Corps and the Army Air forces. Gradually, however, military leaders were forced to make adjustmentsin part because of public and political pressures, but also because they recognized that these forms of segregation were wasting manpower. By the end of the war, the number of black servicemen had increased sevenfold, to 700,000; some training camps were being integrated; blacks were being allowed to serve on ships with white sailors; and more black units were being sent into combat. But tensions remained. In some of the integrated army basesFort Dix, New Jersey, for example riots occasionally broke out when blacks protested having to serve in segregated divisions. Substantial discrimination survived in all the services until well after the war. But within the military, as within the society at large, the traditional pattern of race relations was slowly but substantially eroding.

"Rosie the Riveter"

The war was also an important event in the modern history of American women, who found themselvesbecause of social and economic necessity suddenly thrust into roles long considered inappropriate for them. With so many men serving in the military, women became crucial to the successful operation of industry. And so the number of women in the work force increased by over 6 million, or by nearly 60 percent, in the course of the war. The new working women were far more likely to be married and were on the whole considerably older than those who had entered the work force in the past. They were also more likely to work in heavy industrial jobs that had previously been reserved for men. The famous wartime image of "Rosie the Riveter" symbolized the new importance of the female industrial work force.

Working women encountered far less popular hostility than they had in previous decades. But the new opportunities produced new problems of their own. Many mothers whose husbands were in the military tried to combine jobs with caring for their children and found the task extraordinarily difficult. The absence of child-care facilities or other community services meant that some women had no choice but to leave young childrenoften known as "latchkey children" or "eight-hour orphans"at home alone (or sometimes locked in cars) while they worked. The search for wartime employment also required many women to move to new communities. This geographical mobility often had beneficial economic results, but it also took its toll on family stability.

Perhaps in part because of the family dislocations the war produced, juvenile crime rose markedly in the war years. Young boys were arrested at rapidly increasing rates for car theft and other burglary, vandalism, and vagrancy. The arrest rate for prostitutes, many of whom were teen-age girls, rose too, as did the incidence of venereal disease. For many children, however, the distinctive experience of the war years was not crime but work. More than a third of all teen-agers between the ages of fourteen and eighteen were employed late in the war, causing some reduction in high-school enrollments.

The return of prosperity helped increase the rate and lower the age of marriage, but many of these young marriages were unable to survive the pressures of wartime separation. The divorce rate rose rapidly as well. The rise in the birth rate that accompanied the increase in marriages was the first sign of what would become the great postwar "baby boom."

The Internment of the Japanese-Americans

World War I had produced in America a virtual orgy of hatred, vindictiveness, and hysteria, as well as widespread and flagrant violations of civil liberties. World War II did not. A few papers, among them Father Coughlin's Social Justice, were barred from the mails as seditious; but there was no general censorship of dissident publications. A few Nazi agents and American fascists were jailed; but there was no major assault on those suspected of sympathizing with the Axis. Indeed, the most ambitious effort to punish domestic fascists, a sedition trial of twenty-eight people, ended in a mistrial, and the defendants went free. Unlike during World War I, socialists and communists (most of whom strongly supported the war effort) were left unpunished and unpersecuted.

Nor was there much of the ethnic or cultural animosity that had characterized World War I. Americans continued to eat sauerkraut without calling it "liberty cabbage." They displayed little hostility toward German- and Italian-Americans. Instead, they seemed to share the view of government propaganda that the enemy was less the German and Italian people than the vicious political systems to which they had been subjected.

But there was a glaring exception to the general rule of tolerance: the treatment of the small, politically powerless group of Japanese-Americans. From the beginning, Americans adopted a different attitude toward their Asian enemy than they did toward their European foes. They attributed to the Japanese people certain racial and cultural characteristics that made it easier to hold them in contempt. The Japanese, both government and private propaganda encouraged Americans to believe, were a devious, malign, and cruel people. The infamous attack on Pearl Harbor seemed to many to confirm that assessment.

It was perhaps unsurprising, therefore, that this growing racial animosity soon extended to Americans of Japanese descent. There were not many Japanese-Americans in the United Statesonly about 127,000, most of them concentrated in a few areas in California. About a third of them were unnaturalized, first-generation immigrants (Issei); two-thirds were naturalized or native-born citizens of the United States (Nisei). Because they generally kept to themselves and preserved traditional Japanese cultural patterns, it was easy for others to imagine that the Japanese-Americans were engaged in conspiracies on behalf of their ancestral homeland. Wild stories circulated about sabotage at Pearl Harbor and plots to aid a Japanese landing on the coast of Californiaall later shown to be entirely without foundation. Public pressure to remove the "threat" grew steadily.

Finally, in February 1942, in response to pressure from military officials and political leaders on the West Coast and recommendations from the War Department, the president authorized the army to "intern" the Japanese-Americans. More than 100,000 people (Issei and Nisei alike) were rounded up, told to dispose of their property however they could (which often meant simply abandoning it), and taken to what the government euphemistically termed "relocation centers" in the "interior." In fact, they were facilities little different from prisons, many of them located in the desert. Conditions in the internment camps were not, for the most part, inhumane. Neither, however, were they especially comfortable. More important, a large group of loyal, hard-working Americans were forced to spend up to three years in grim, debilitating isolation, barred from lucrative employment, provided with only minimal medical care, and deprived of decent schools for their children. (Some young men, however, were encouraged to join a Nisei army unit, which fought in Europe.) The Supreme Court upheld the evacuation in a 1944 decision; and although most of the Japanese-Americans were released later that year (after the reelection of the president), they were largely unable to win any compensation for their losses.

The Retreat from Reform

Late in 1943, Franklin Roosevelt publicly suggested that "Dr. New Deal," as he called it, had served its purpose and should now give way to "Dr. Win-the-War." The statement reflected the president's own genuine shift in concern: that victory was now more important than reform. But it reflected, too, the political reality that had emerged during the first two years of war. Liberals in government were finding themselves unable to enact new programs. They were even finding it difficult to protect existing ones from conservative assault.

Within the administration itself, many of the liberals who had in the late 1930s established positions of influence found themselves displaced by the new managers of the wartime agencies, who were drawn overwhelmingly from large corporations and conservative Wall Street law firms. The greatest assault on liberal reform, however, came from Congress. The war provided conservatives there with the excuse they had been waiting for to dismantle many of the achievements of the New Deal, which they had always mistrusted. By the end of 1943, Congress had eliminated the Civilian Conservation Corps, the National Youth Administration, and the Works Progress Administration; and the Farm Security Administration was left virtually impotent. With budget deficits mounting because of war costs, liberals made no headway in their efforts to increase Social Security benefits and otherwise extend social welfare programs.

Even had Roosevelt had the inclination to resist this conservative trend, his awareness of political realities would have been enough to stop him from trying very hard. In the congressional elections of 1942, Republicans gained 47 seats in the House and 10 in the Senate. Increasingly, the president quietly accepted the defeat or erosion of New Deal measures in order to win support for his war policies and peace plans. He also accepted the changes, however, because he realized that his chances for reelection in 1944 depended on his ability to identify himself less with domestic issues than with world peace.

Republicans approached the 1944 election determined to exploit what they believed was a smoldering national resentment of wartime regimentation and privation and a general unhappiness with the pattern of Democratic reform. Also hoping to play on concerns about the deteriorating health of the president, they nominated as their candidate the young and vigorous governor of New York, Thomas E. Dewey. Roosevelt faced no opposition for the Democratic nomination for president; but because he was so visibly in poor health, there was great pressure on him to abandon Vice President Henry Wallace, an advanced New Dealer and hero of the CIO, and replace him with a more moderate figure, acceptable to conservative party bosses and Southern Democrats. Roosevelt reluctantly succumbed to the pressure and selected Senator Harry S. Truman of Missouri, who had won national acclaim as chairman of the Senate War Investigating Committee (known as the Truman Committee), which had compiled an impressive record uncovering waste and corruption in wartime production.

Republican and Democratic leaders agreed in advance that the conduct of the war and the plans for the peace would not be an issue in the campaign. Instead, the campaign revolved around domestic economic issues and, indirectly, the president's health. In reality, the president was suffering from a range of very serious physical maladies (including arteriosclerosis) and also, apparently, from intermittent depression. It may not be too much to say that he was dying. But the campaign seemed momentarily to revive him. At the end of September, he addressed a raucously appreciative audience of members of the Teamsters Union and was at his sardonic best. He followed this triumph with strenuous campaign appearances in Chicago and a day-long drive in an open car through New York City in a soaking rain.

Roosevelt's apparent capacity to serve four more years, his stature as an international leader, and his promise to workers to revive the New Deal after the war combined to ensure him a substantial victory. He captured 53.5 percent of the popular vote to Dewey's 46 percent; and he won 432 electoral votes to Dewey's 99. Democrats lost 1 seat in the Senate, gained 20 in the House, and maintained control of both.

The Defeat of the Axis

By the middle of 1943, America and its allies had succeeded in stopping the Axis advance both in Europe and in the Pacific. In the next two years, the Allies themselves seized the offensive and launched a series of powerful drives that rapidly led the way to victory.

The Liberation of France

In the fall of 1943, Germany was already reeling under incessant blows from Allied air power. By early 1944, American and British bombers were attacking German industrial installations and other targets almost around the clock, drastically cutting production and impeding transportation. By the winter of 1944, the bombing had seriously demoralized the German people. Especially devastating was the massive bombing of such German cities as Leipzig, Dresden, and Berlin. A February 1944 incendiary raid on Dresden created a great firestorm that destroyed three-fourths of the previously undamaged city and killed tens of thousands of civilians.

The morality of such attacks has been much debated in the years since the war, but the bombing did much to clear the way for the great Allied invasion of France in the late spring. An enormous invasion force had been gathering in England for two years: almost 3 million troops, and perhaps the greatest array of naval vessels and armaments ever assembled in one place in the history of warfare. On the morning of June 6, 1944, after several delays, this vast invasion force moved into action. The landing came not at the narrowest part of the English Channel, where the Germans had expected and prepared for it, but along sixty miles of the Cotentin peninsula on the coast of Normandy. While airplanes and battleships offshore bombarded the Nazi defenses, 4,000 vessels, stretching as far as the eye could see, landed troops and supplies on the beaches. (Three divisions of paratroopers had been dropped behind the German lines the night before.) Fighting was intense along the beach, but the superior manpower and equipment of the Allied forces gradually prevailed. Within a week, the German forces had been dislodged from virtually the entire Normandy coast; but for more than a month further progress remained slow.

The Battle of Saint-Lo, late in July, was an important turning point. General Omar Bradley's First Army smashed the German lines after a heavy bombardment. George S. Patron's Third Army, spearheaded by heavy tank attacks, then broke through the hole Bradley had created and began a steady drive into the heart of France. On August 25, amid scenes of delirious joy, Free French forces arrived in Paris and liberated the city from four years of German occupation. By mid-September the Allied armies had driven the Germans almost entirely out of France and Belgium. But then they came to a halt at the Rhine River against a firm line of German defenses.

Cold weather, rain, and floods provided the Germans with a temporary respite from the Allied advance in late 1944. Then, in mid-December, the German forces struck in desperation along fifty miles of front in the Ardennes Forest. In the ensuing Battle of the Bulge (named for a large bulge that appeared in the American lines as the Germans pressed forward), they drove fifty-five miles toward Antwerp before they were finally stopped at Bastogne. The battle marked the end of serious German resistance in the west.

While the Allies were fighting their way through France, Soviet forces were sweeping westward into Central Europe and the Balkans. In late January 1945, the Russians launched an offensive of more than 150 divisions toward the Oder River, far inside Germany. By early spring, they were ready to launch a final offensive against Berlin. Omar Bradley pushed on in the meantime toward the Rhine and early in March captured the city of Cologne, on the river's west bank. The next day, through a remarkable stroke of luck, he discovered and seized an undamaged bridge across the river at Remagen; and Allied troops were soon pouring across the Rhine. In the following weeks the British commander, Montgomery, with a million troops, pushed into Germany in the north while Bradley's army, sweeping through central Germany, completed the encirclement of 300,000 German soldiers in the Ruhr.

The German resistance was finally broken on both fronts, and the only real questions remaining involved how the Allies would divide the final tasks of conquest. American forces were moving eastward much faster than they had anticipated and could have beaten the Russians to Berlin and Prague. General Eisenhower decided, instead, to halt his advance along the Elbe River in central Germany to await the Russians. That decision enabled the Soviets to occupy eastern Germany and Czechoslovakia, with major consequences for the future of both countries and the world.

On April 30, with Soviet forces on the outskirts of Berlin, Adolf Hitler killed himself in his bunker in the capital. And on May 8, 1945, the remaining German forces surrendered unconditionally. V-E (Victory in Europe) Day prompted great celebrations in

Western Europe and in the United States, tempered only by the knowledge of the continuing war against Japan.

The Pacific Offensive

The victory in Europe had come more quickly than most military leaders had expected; less than a year after the Normandy landing, the war against Germany was over. The victory in the Pacific was expected to take far longer, but events there proceeded with unexpected speed as well.

In February 1944, American naval forces under Admiral Nimitz won a series of victories in the Marshall Islands and cracked the outer perimeter of the Japanese Empire. Before the month was out, the navy had plunged far within it to destroy other Japanese bastions. American submarines, in the meantime, were wreaking havoc on Japanese shipping and crippling the nation's domestic economy. By the summer of 1944, the already skimpy food rations for the Japanese people had been reduced by nearly a quarter; there was also a crucial gasoline shortage.

A more frustrating struggle was in progress in the meantime on the Asian mainland. In 1942, the Japanese had forced General Joseph H. Stilwell out of Burma and had moved their own troops as far west as the mountains bordering on India. Stilwell organized an aerial ferry over the Himalayas to supply the isolated Chinese forces continuing to resist Japan and to bring Chinese troops out for Stilwell to train and arm. In 1943, Stilwell led Chinese, Indian, and a few American troops back through northern Burma, constructing a road and a parallel pipeline across the rugged mountains into Yunnan province of China. The Burma Road (also known as the Ledo Road or Stilwell Road) finally opened in the fall of 1944. By then, however, the Japanese had launched a major counteroffensive, capturing some of the bases from which American air strikes against thejapanese mainland had been launched and driving so deep into the Chinese interior that they threatened the terminus of the Ledo Road and the center of government at Chungking.

The great Japanese offensive precipitated a long-simmering crisis in Chinese-American affairs, centering on the relations between General Stilwell and Premier Chiang Kai-shek. Stilwell was contemptuous of Chiang and indignant because the Chinese leader was using many of his troops to maintain an armed frontier against the Chinese communists and would not deploy those troops against thejapanese.

The decisive battles of the Pacific War, however, occurred not on the mainland but in the central and western Pacific. In mid-June 1944, an enormous American armada struck the heavily fortified Mariana Islands and, after some of the bloodiest operations of the war, captured Tinian, Guam, and Saipan, 1,350 miles from Tokyo. In September, American forces landed on the western Carolines. And on October 20, General MacArthur's troops landed on Leyte Island in the Philippines. Thejapanese now mobilized their remaining strength for a last defense of their empire and employed virtually their entire fleet against the Allied invaders in three major encounterswhich together constituted the decisive Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval engagement in history. American forces held off thejapanese onslaught and sank four Japanese carriers, all but destroying Japan's capacity to continue a serious naval war.

Toward Final Victory

The defeat of Japan now seemed inevitable, but the war was not yet over. As American forces advanced steadily closer to thejapanese mainland early in 1945, the imperial forces seemed only to increase their resistance. Fighting continued in the Philippines. In the meantime, American marines moved in February to seize the tiny volcanic island of Iwo Jima, only 750 miles from Tokyo, a potentially valuable base for future air strikes against Japan. Thejapanese defended the island so ferociously that the marines suffered over 20,000 casualties. It was the costliest battle in the history of the Marine Corps.

The battle for Okinawa, an island only 370 miles south of Japan, was further evidence of the strength of thejapanese resistance in these last desperate days. Week after week, thejapanese sent Kamikaze suicide planes against American and British ships, sacrificing 3,500 of them while inflicting great damage. Japanese troops on shore launched equally desperate nighttime attacks on the American lines. The United States and its allies suffered nearly 50,000 casualties on land and sea before finally capturing Okinawa in late June 1945. Over 100,000 Japanese died in that encounter.

The same kind of bitter fighting seemed to await the Americans when they invaded Japan. But there were signs early in 1945 that such an invasion might not be necessary. The Japanese had almost no ships or planes left with which to fight and seemed unable to mount even token resistance to American challenges at sea. In July 1945, for example, American warships stood off the shore of Japan and shelled industrial targets (many already in ruins from aerial bombings) with impunity. The brutal firebombing of Tokyo in May, in which American bombers dropped napalm on the city and created a firestorm in which over 80,000 died, had further weakened the will to resist.

Moderate Japanese leaders, who had long since decided that the war was lost, were in the meantime increasing their power within the government. After the invasion of Okinawa, Emperor Hirohito appointed a new premier and gave him instructions to sue for peace. Although the new leader could not persuade military leaders to give up the fight, he did try, along with the emperor himself, to obtain mediation through the Soviet Union. The Russians showed little interest in playing the role of arbitrator, but other developments made their participation superfluous in any case. For at a meeting of Allied leaders in Potsdam, Germany, in mid-July 1945, President Harry S. Truman (who had succeeded to the office on the death of Franklin Roosevelt three months earlier) received news of the first successful test of an atomic weapon.

The Manhattan Project

Reports had reached the United States in 1939, through the Italian physicist Enrico Fermi and the German mathematician Albert Einstein (then living in exile in America), that Nazi scientists had learned how to produce atomic fission in uranium. That knowledge, they warned, could be the first step toward the creation of a bomb more powerful than any weapon ever devised. The United States and Britain immediately began a race to develop the weapon before the Germans did.

In December 1942, American physicists produced a controlled chain reaction in an atomic pile at the University of Chicago, solving the first great problem in producing an atomic weapon. There remained the enormous technical problems of achieving the release of this power in a bomb. Over the next three years, the government secretly poured nearly $2 billion into the so-called Manhattan Projecta massive scientific effort conducted at hidden laboratories in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Los Alamos, New Mexico, and other sites. (Its name had emerged earlier, when many of the atomic physicists had been working at Columbia University in New York.) Hundreds of scientists, many of them not fully aware of what they were working on, labored feverishly to complete two complementary projects. One (at Oak Ridge) was the production of fissionable plutonium, the fuel for an atomic explosion; the other (at Los Alamos, under the supervision of J. Robert Oppenheimer) was the construction of a bomb that could employ the fuel. The scientists pushed ahead far faster than anyone had predicted. Even so, the war in Europe had ended by the time they were ready to test the first bomb. (Only later did they discover that the Germans had never come close to constructing a usable atomic device.)

On July 16, 1945, the Manhattan Project scientists stood on a hill near Los Alamos, New Mexico, watching a tower several miles away on which was suspended the fruits of their labor. And just before dawn, they witnessed the first atomic explosion in history: a blinding flash of light brighter than any ever seen on earth, and a huge, billowing mushroom cloud. Some were exhilarated by their success. Others, among them J. Robert Oppenheimer, were already troubled by the implications of what they had done. Standing on the New Mexico desert watching the terrible explosion, Oppenheimer thought grimly of the words from Hindu Scripture: "Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds."

Atomic Warfare

As soon as news of the explosion reached Truman in Potsdam, he issued an ultimatum to the Japanese (signed jointly by the British) demanding that they surrender immediately or face utter devastation. He set a deadline of August 3. The Japanese premier wanted to accept the Allied demand, but by the time the deadline arrived he had not yet been able to persuade the military leaders to agree. There was reason to believe that the government might be willing to surrender, in return for a promise that the Japanese could retain their emperor (who was, even then, a largely symbolic ruler). The American government apparently disregarded those overtures; and when the August 3 deadline came and went without a settlement, Truman ordered the air force to use the new atomic weapons against Japan.

Controversy has raged for decades over whether Truman's decision to use the bomb was justified and what his motives were. Some have argued that the atomic attack was unnecessary, that had the United States agreed to the survival of the emperor (which it ultimately did agree to in any case), or had it waited only a few more weeks, the Japanese would have surrendered anyway. Others argue that nothing less than the atomic bombs could have persuaded the Japanese to surrender without an American invasion.

Some critics of the decision, including some of the scientists involved in the Manhattan Project, have argued that whatever Japanese intentions, the United States, as a matter of moral conviction, should not have used the terrible new weapon. One horrified physicist wrote the president shortly before the attack: "This thing must not be permitted to exist on this earth. We must not be the most hated and feared people in the world." The nation's military and political leaders, however, showed little concern about such matters. Truman, through no fault of his own, had not even been aware of the bomb's existence until a few weeks before he was called on to decide whether to use it. And knowing so little about it, he could hardly have been expected to recognize the full implications of its power. He was, apparently, making what he believed to be a simple military decision. A weapon was available that would end the war quickly; he could see no reason not to use it.

Still more controversy has existed over whether there were other motives at work in Truman's decision as well. With the Soviet Union poised to enter the war in the Pacific, did the United States want to end the conflict quickly to forestall an expanded communist presence in Asia? Did Truman use the bomb as a weapon to intimidate Stalin, with whom he was engaged in difficult negotiations, so the Soviet leader would accept American demands? Little direct evidence is available to support either of these accusations, but historians continue to disagree on the issue.

Whatever the reasons, the decision was made. On August 6, 1945, an American B-29, the Enola Gay, dropped an atomic weapon on the Japanese industrial center at Hiroshima. With a single bomb, the United States completely incinerated a four-square-mile area at the center of the previously undamaged city. More than 80,000 civilians died, according to later American estimates. Many more survived to suffer the painful and crippling effects of radioactive fallout or to pass those effects on to their children in the form of serious birth defects.

The Japanese government, stunned by the attack, was at first unable to agree on a response. Two days later, on August 8, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan. And the following day, another American plane dropped another atomic weaponthis time on the city of Nagasakiinflicting horrible damage on yet another unfortunate community. Finally, the emperor intervened to break the stalemate in the cabinet; and on August 14, the government announced that it was ready to give up. On September 2, 1945, on board the American battleship Missouri, anchored in Tokyo Bay, Japanese officials signed the articles of surrender.

The greatest war in the history of mankind had come to an end, and the United States had emerged from it not only victorious, but in a position of unprecedented power, influence, and prestige. It was a victory, however, that few could greet with unambiguous joy. Fourteen million men under arms had died in the struggle. Many more civilians had perished. The United States had suffered only light casualties in comparison with some other nations, but the totals were frightful nevertheless: 322,000 dead, another 800,000 injured. And in spite of having paid so high a price for peace, the world continued to face an uncertain future. The menace of nuclear warfare hung like a black cloud on the horizon. And already the world's two strongest nationsthe United States and the Soviet Unionwere developing antagonisms toward one other that would darken the peace for many decades to come.

WHERE HISTORIANS DISAGREE

The Question of Pearl Harbor

"Remember Pearl Harbor!" became a rallying cry during World War IIreminding Americans of the treachery and savagery of the surprise Japanese attack on the American naval base in Hawaii, arousing the nation to even greater efforts to exact revenge. But within a few years of the close of hostilities, some Americans remembered Pearl Harbor for different reasons and began to challenge the official version of the attack on December 7, 1941. Their charges sparked a debate that has never fully subsided. Was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor unprovoked, and did it come without warning, as the Roosevelt administration claimed at the time? Or was it part of a deliberate plan by the president to have the Japanese force a reluctant United States into the war? And most controversial of all, did the administration know of the attack in advance? Did Roosevelt deliberately refrain from warning the commanders in Hawaii so that the air raid's effect on the American public would be more profound?

Among the first to challenge the official version of Pearl Harbor was the historian Charles A. Beard, who maintained in President Roosevelt and the Coming of the War, 1941 (1948) that the United States had deliberately forced the Japanese into a position where they had no choice but to attack. By cutting off Japan's access to the raw materials it needed for its military adventure in China, by refusing stubbornly to compromise, the United States ensured that the Japanese would strike out into the southwestern Pacific to take the needed supplies by forceeven at the risk of war with the United States. Not only was American policy provocative in effect, Beard suggested. It was also deliberately provocative. More than that, the administration, which had some time before cracked the Japanese code, must have known weeks in advance of Japan's plans to attack. Beard supported his argument by citing Secretary of War Henry Stimson's comment in his diary: "The question was how we should maneuver them into the position of firing the first shot."

A partial refutation of the Beard argument appeared in 1950 in Basil Rauch's Roosevelt from Munich to Pearl Harbor. The administration did not know in advance of the planned attack on Pearl Harbor, Rauch argued. It did, however, expect an attack somewhere; and it had made subtle efforts to "maneuver" Japan into firing the first shot in the conflict. But Richard N. Current, in Secretary Stimson: Study in Statecraft (1954), offered an even stronger challenge to Beard. Stimson did indeed anticipate an attack, Current argued, but not an attack on American territory; he anticipated, rather, an assault on British or Dutch possessions in the Pacific. The problem confronting the administration was not how to maneuver the Japanese into attacking the United States but how to find a way to make a Japanese attack on British or Dutch territory appear to be an attack on America. Only thus, he believed, could Congress be persuaded to approve a declaration of war.

Roberta Wohlstetter took a different approach to the question, in Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision (1962), the most thorough scholarly study to appear to that point. De-emphasizing the question of whether the American government wanted a Japanese attack, she undertook to answer the question of whether the administration knew of the attack in advance. Wohlstetter concluded that the United States had ample warning of Japanese intentions and should have realized that the Pearl Harbor raid was imminent. But government officials failed to interpret the evidence correctly largely because their preconceptions about Japanese intentions were at odds with the evidence they confronted. Admiral Edwin T. Layton, who had been a staff officer at Pearl Harbor in 1941, also blames political and bureaucratic failures for the absence of advance warning of the attack. In a 1985 memoir, And I Was There, he argues that the Japanese attack was not only a result of "audacious planning and skillful execution" by the Japanese, but of "a dramatic breakdown in our intelligence process . . . related directly to feuding among high-level naval officers in Washington."

Probably the most thorough study of Pearl Harbor appeared in 1981, in Gordon W. Prange's At Dawn We Slept. Like Wohlstetter, Prange concluded that the Roosevelt administration was guilty of a series of disastrous blunders in interpreting Japanese strategy; the American government had possession of enough information to predict the attack but failed to do so. Prange, however, dismissed the arguments of the "revisionists" (Beard and his successors) that the president had deliberately maneuvered the nation into the war by permitting the Japanese to attack. Instead, he emphasized the great daring and skill with which the Japanese orchestrated an ambitious operation that few Americans believed possible.

But the revisionist claims have not been laid to rest. John Toland revived the charge of a Roosevelt betrayal in 1982, in Infamy: Pearl Harbor and Its AJiermath, claiming to have discovered new evidence (the testimony of an unidentified seaman) that proves the navy knew at least five days in advance that Japanese aircraft carriers were heading toward Hawaii. From that, Toland concluded that Roosevelt must have known that an attack was forthcoming and that he allowed it to occur in the belief that a surprise attack would arouse the nation. Warning the commanders in Hawaii in advance, Roosevelt feared, might cause the Japanese to cancel their plans. The president was gambling that American defenses would be sufficient to repel the attack, but his gamble failedand resulted in the deaths of over 2,000 people and the crippling of the American Pacific fleet. But like the many previous writers who have proferred the same argument, Toland was unable to produce any direct evidence of Roosevelt's knowledge of the planned attack.


 

 



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