World War II: Diplomacy--United States


Figure 1.--This young shipyard welder in 1943 may seem far from the rarified halls of diplomacy. But in fact American industry was a critical component of American diplomacy. Germany and Japan ignored it and this young lady and thousands like her would prove them very wrong. Diplomacy without power throughout history has proven meaningless. The United States at the outbreak of World War had a substantial, but not battle ready Navy. The Air Force was expanding, but still relatively small. The Army was miniscule and lacking modern weaponry. Both Germany and Japan recognized that America's vast industrial power made it a mortal danger, but believed its military weakness meant that it was not an immediate danger. They concluded that they could complete their planned aggression before America could develop a substanbtial military force. The Germans also believed that their U-boats could prevent American troops from reaching Europe. The term used was Kaisersärge, meaning floating coffins.--A term used in World War I. Neither the Germans or Japanese realised the speed at ehich American industry could become the Arsenal of Democracy. For that matter neithrer did American allies and the U.S. military. The failure of American diplomacy and the the Pearl Harbor sttack was a direct result of milirarty weakness just as was the fsilure of Amrticn diplomcy in World War I. Here we see a real life Rossie the Riveter. An important part of the Arsensl of Democracy was the mobilization of women workes.

American diplomacy after World War I had two primary focuses. The focus in Europe was aimed at assisting the German Weimar Government financially until Hitler seized power. The focus in the Pacific was to restrain Japanese expansion, especially concerning China. The Dawes Plan helped stabilize the German economy. After Hitler seized power (1933), American diplomacy was hostile to the NAZI regime, but unwilling to take any real action because of the isolationist beliefs of the great majority of the American people which insisted on the passage of neutrality laws. The United States withdrew its ambassador, but did not break relations until Kristallnacht (1938). The Roosevelt Administration gradually moved America away from isolationism, especially after the fall of France. After Churchill became primeminister (May 1940), America and Britain gradually forged the greatest military alliance in history which envisioned in the Atlantic Charter a few months before Pearl Harbor (1941). Histories of the War generally focus on the dramatic German military campaigns during the first 2 years of the War when the United States was neutral. America was neutral, but among all the World War II combatants, the United States was the only country that had the human and industyrial resources to wage a global war. And while America did not intervene militarily, American diplomacy fundamentally altered the course of the War. First, The United States acted tonhelpn Britain continued the War, assistance that would eventually be formalized in Lend Lease. Second the United States destracted the Japanese from joining the NAZI assault on the Soviet Union and with the oil embargo virtually forced the Japanese to attack the United States rather than the Soviet Union. Of course Pearl Harbor of course changed everything, plunging the United States into the War. American diplomacy focused on the war time alliance with Britain and the Soviets. And as the Allies and Soviets reversed the Axis tide, the diplomacy of the War shifted to the post-War settlement.

Pre-War Diplomacy (1920s-30s)

American diplomacy after World War I had two primary focuses, one on Germany and the other on Japan. At first the United States was dealing with Weimar Germany and the issues assiciated with reparations. After Hitler seized power it was on NAZI Germany and the aggresive nature of the new regime. Hitler seized power and Franlin Rosevelt was inagurated at about the same time so American diplomacy with the NAZIs was conducted by the Roosevelt Administration. The United States alkready had diplomatic relations with Germany and Japan. President Roosevelt decided to open diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, hoping for badly needed trade deals (1933). American diplomacy before and during World War II is commonly given short shift compared to the dramatic military campaigns which unfolded in Europe. A critical factor in America's pre-War diplomacy was that the United States did not have military power to iunfluence developmenhts. And the Axis powers and the Soviets knew it.

Germany

The focus in Europe was aimed at assisting the German Weimar Government financially until Hitler seized power. The focus in the Pacific was to restrain Japanese expansion, especially concerning China. The Dawes Plan helped stabilize the German economy. President Franklin Roosevelt and Chancellor Adolf Hitler assumed power wihin months of each other (January-March 1933). From the beginning, the President clearly registered is distrust of Hitler and the NAZIs, although the energy of the Administration and the focus of the American people was on the Depression. After Hitler seized power (1933), American diplomacy was hostile to the NAZI regime, but unwilling to take any real action because of the isolationist beliefs of the great majority of the American people which insisted on the passage of neutrality laws. And as Europe began to drift toward war, the Isolationist Movement gained great influence, leading to the passage of the Neutrality Acts which severely contrained presidential action. The United States withdrew its ambassador, but did not break relations until Kristallnacht (November 1938). Göring explauined after the War, "The decisive factor in 1938 was the consideration that it would take the United States several years to prepare. Its shipping tonnage at the time was not too large. I wanted Hitler to conclude the war in Europe as rapidly as possible and not get involved in Russia. Yet, on the question of whether America could build up an army on a big scale, opinions were divided." [Göring]

Japan

The Washington Naval Talks (1921) were in part designed to limit the growth of Japanese naval power. For several years America attempted to deal with Japanese aggression in China diplomatically, even after Japanese planes attacked and sunk a U.S. gunboat (1936). Gradully the United States began to aid China and sanction Japan economically.

Latin America

In addition to the principal focus on Germant and Jaoan, the Roosevelt Administration had launched the Good Neighbor Policy (early-1930s) which would play an important role in concinvcing most of the Latin Americans to reduce Axis influences after the War broke out in Europe. The United Ststes was also able to elist most of Latin Americans after Pear Hsrbor in the Allied war effort. Here the major factor in America's diplomsric success was the American economy. The United Ststes sas already the major Latin trading psrtner before the War. And the War created even more demand for Latin American raw materials. Even if they had wanted to, they could not have sold raw materials to the Axis because of Allied control of the sea lanes. And neither Germany nor Japan had the ability to pay for raw material. Their method of obtauning raw marerial was to invade or threaten to invade.

Early-War Diplomacy (1939-41)

World War II was fought for a year and a half, America during thta time was legally neutral, but President Roosevelt from the moment the Panzers crossed the Polish frontier began working on ways to stop Hitler and save Britain and France. This became largely a domestic matter as the Roosevelt Administration had to contend with the Neutrality Acts and the Isolationists to get aid to the Allies. The Presidents diplmztic offensive in Europe was to dispatch several influential aides and colleagues to Europe. This was in part because he distrusted the State Department generally and his isolationist ambassador to Britain, Jospeph P. Kennedy, in particular. Undesecretary of State Summner Wellsked the way (Spring 1940). He was fillowed by 'Wild Bill' Donnovan, World War I hero and future spymaster. Donnonovam's assignment was to assess Britin's ability and will go hold off as well as to confer with MI-6 concerning an american intelligence operation. At the same time the POresiudent ordered FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to turn a blind eye to Britih intelligence operations in America. The Britih in cooperaion with Donovan launched a major effort to counter German inteligence operations in America. The Hermans at the time were promoting the Iolationist Movement. Next came Harry Hopkins, one of the Presudent's cloesest associates. Hopkins arrived after the President's reelection and during the Blitz and determined that Britain would fight, but was running out of the financial means toi do so. He made it clear to Churchill that America would back Britain, but could not yet enter the War. He would later meet with Stalin in a besieged Miscow. And finally, defeated Republican presidential nominee Wendel Wilkie, made a well publixized trip to Britain and played an important role in selling Lend Lease to Congress. Railroad heir Avril Harriman was ut in charge of Lend Lease. [Fullilove] And by the last months of 1941, a still neutral United ttes launched an undeclared shooing war in the North Atantic against the U-boats. Hitler was furious, but controlled his nger until the Whermcht had destroyed the Red Army and he could turn on America in force. American diplomacy was even less neutral in the Pacific. After years of fruitless diplomatic protests, the Administratin began to implement economic sanctions against as well as moving the Pacific Fleet forward to Pearl Harbor. And wih it the United States began providing aid to the Chinese Nationalists. Utimately an oil embargo forced Japan's hand. Japan had almos no oil of its own, most was imported from the United States. They would have to withdraw from China are wage war on the United States.

Toitalitarian (Axis and Soviet) Assessments

The Axis powers and the Soviets had to take America into account as they planned their aggressions. The Soviets were the most isolated because their aggression was conducted in Eastern Europe, east of the NAZI empire. This shielded them from media views. The NAZIs invaded and occupied Western Europe bringing them to the Channel cost snd the full glare of the international media. The Japanese had to take America into account because the Philippines Islands, at the time an American commonwealth. This was a major problem because the Philippines sat squarely on the sea lanes between the Home Islands and the Southern Resource Zone they were determined to conquer. These countries had to deal with American diplomats. And their assessments of the United States largely determined how they responded to American diplomats. Thus it is interesting to look at how these powers looked at the United States. Unlike The totalitarian owers, American with its free press and open society meant that it was possible to easily assess the American military and indistrial power. Ironically the country that mafe the most disasterous mistake was the country which studied going to war with America most carefully--the Japanese. For the Germsns there was no real study, it was simly a decesion Hitler made in his own mind. It was an act of pent-up vengence without any thought to the consequences.

Impact of American Diplomacy

World War II histories generally focus on the dramatic German military campaigns during the first 2 years of the War when the United States was neutral. America was theoretically neutral, but the Roosevelt Administratiin was far from neutral. And among all the World War II combatants, the United States, the countrynmost reluctant to fight, was the only country that had the human and industrial resources to wage a global war. And while America did not intervene militarily, President Roosevelt skillfully pursued a diplomacy that fundamentally altered the course of the War. First, The United States acted to save Britain and enabled the country to continued the War. This assistance would eventually be formalized in Lend Lease. With Britain unassaiable behind the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force shield, Hitler decided that the only way to bring Britain to the peace table was to defeat the Soviet Union, something that was central to his thinking from the beginning. This underlines the deisterous outlook of the Isolationists who fought to abandon Britain. Second the United States destracted the Japanese from joining the NAZI assault on the Soviet Union and with the oil embargo virtually forced the Japanese, who were intent on war, to attack the United States rather than the Soviet Union. This probably saved the Soviet Union and with it the outcome of the War. Thus the President in large measure determined the outcome of the War even before America entered the War. Pearl Harbor of course changed everything, plunging the United States into the War. American diplomacy focused on the war time alliance with Britain and the Soviets.

War Diplomacy (1941-45)

Lend Lease provided invaluable assistance to the countries fighting the Axis. Britain could not have continued the war without Lend Lease. It not only saved Britain, but gave the Red Army the means to hotly pursue the Whermacht in a series of offensives made possible by the victory at Kursk where the German Panzers were finally turned back during a summer campign (July 1943). And as the Allies and Soviets reversed the Axis tide, the diplomacy of the War shifted to the post-War settlement.

Country Trends


Britain

The Roosevelt Administration was contrained by Isolationism, but made some effort to make common cause with Britain. Primeminisyter Chamberlain, convinced that only he could dea;l wih Hitler and prevent war, largely ignord the Presidents initiatives. After Hitler launched the War. the President gradually moved America away from isolationism, especially after the fall of France. After Churchill became primeminister (May 1940), America and Britain gradually forged the greatest military alliance in history which envisioned in the Atlantic Charter a few months before Pearl Harbor (1941). Histories of the War generally focus on the dramatic German military campaigns during the first 2 years of the War when the United States was neutral. America was neutral, but among all the World War II combatants, the United States was the only country that had the human and industrial resources to wage a global war. And while America did not intervene militarily, American diplomacy fundamentally altered the course of the War. The United States acted to help Britain continued the War, assistance that would eventually be formalized in Lend Lease.

Germany

American diplomacy was aimed at assisting the German Government financially until Hitler seized power. The Dawes Plan helped stabilize the German economy. After Hitler seized power (1933), American diplomacy was hostile to the NAZI regime, but unwilling to take any real action because of the isolationist beliefs of the great majority of the American people which insisted on the passage of neutrality laws. The United States withdrew its ambassador, but did not break relations until Kristallnacht (1938).

Japan

The United States destracted the Japanese from joining the NAZI assault on the Soviet Union and with the oil embargo virtually forced the Japanese to attack the United States rather than the Soviet Union. Of course Pearl Harbor of course changed everything, plunging the United States into the War. American diplomacy focused on the war time alliance with Britain and the Soviets.

Soviet Union

The Roosevelt Administration at a very early stage of the New Deal, recognized the Soviet Union (1933). Many americans with left-wing orientation believed that the Soviet Union was a worker's paradise. And the Depression only strengthened such attitudes. Largely unknow at the time was Stalin's developing Terror, the expanding Gulag and the famine engineered in the Ukraine as well as the minimal wages payed workers and the abolishment of free trade unions.

Exchanging Diplomats

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and Hitler's declaration of war brought America into World War II. Axis allies (Bulgaria, Hungary, and Italy) followed suit. This left hundreds of diplomats from these countries in the United States. Under the terms of the Geneva Convention of 1929, the United States was bound to protect the diplmats and their families. To do this, the State Department contracted with resorts in isolated locations. The FBI and Border Patrol undertook to transport the individuals to the resorts. The two most important were the Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia and the Greebrier in White Sulpur Springs, West Virginia. About 2,000 diplomats were housed in these resorts. The Grive Park Inn near Ashville, North Carolina was used for a brief time. The Axis diplomats thus had first class accomodations and meals. Some 130 American diplomats were housed by the Germans at Bad Nauheim near Frankfurt. The accomodations were not as plush. Diplmat George Kennan reported, "most of us were emaciated when we emerged from the experience." The Germans at the resorts were big spenders. They could not leave with any American currency so they bought what ever appeared in the resort shops. The Japanese assetts had been frozen, so they had no money to spend. The room and meals were paid for by the Government. The diplomats remained at the resorts for about 6 months while exchange arrangements were made through the International Red Cross. They were exchanged through neutral Portugal, bith Portugal itself and the Portuguese colony bof Mozambique. The Japanese diplmats traveled by train to New York where they boarded the Swedish liner Gripsholm destined for Lourenco Marques (Maputo) in Mozambique. There American diplomats arrived from Shanghai and Yokohama. The German diplmats were boarded the Drottningholm bound for Lisbon. There they were exchanged for American diplomats traveling by train from Berlin.

War Time Conferences

Both the Allies and the Axis held a series of conferences to plan strategy and work out cooperative actions. The Allied conferences are better known in part because the Allies cooperative effort was much more involved than the Axis effort. The Allied conferences began with the meeting of President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill at Plavencia Bay and the sihning of the Atlantic Charter (August 1941). The Allied conferences also were important in developing war strategy and cooperative efforts, but also helped shape the future of Europe after the War. As the Allies and Soviets reversed the Axis tide, the diplomacy of the War shifted to the post-War settlement.As a result the last two conferences, especially Yalta have proven to be very controversial.

Post-War Diplomacy (1945-48)

President Roosevelt is often criticized for leaving Eastern Europe in Soviet hands. This is a lrgely unfair criticism and here the Isolationists. left-wing elements oposing military spending, and pacifists who had such great influence in the 1930s are lrgely responsible. It was the oviet Union and Rd Army that playd the central role in defeating Hitler. Fighting World War II with the Soviet Union as a cobeligerant is what left Easrern Europe in Soviet hands, not merican diplomacy..

Sources

Fullilove, Michael. Rendezvous with Destiny: How Franklin Roosevelt and Five Extrodinary Men Took America into the War and into the World (2013), 480p.

Göring, Herman. In Gilberto Villahermosa. World War II Magazine (September 2006). Göring was interogated immeduiately after the War in Prisoner of War Camp No. 32 (July 25, 1945). Major Kenneth W. Hechler of the U.S. Army Europe’s Historical Division asked the questions. Captain Herbert R. Sensenig served as the translator.







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Created: 5:51 PM 5/12/2011
Last updated: 12:53 AM 8/3/2018