New Work Origins of WWII from H-Asia List
May 16, 2004
Book Review by David Ulbrich of Robert Boyce and Joseph A. Maiolo, eds.
_The Origins of World War Two: The Debate Continues_
From: H-Net Reviews <books@H-NET.MSU.EDU>
H-NET BOOK REVIEW
Published by H-War@h-net.msu.edu (April 2004)
Robert Boyce and Joseph A. Maiolo, eds. _The Origins of World War
Two: The Debate Continues_. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. vii
+ 397 pp. Maps, chronology, index. $72.00 (cloth), ISBN
0-333-94526-3; $24.95 (paper), ISBN 0-333-94539-5.
Reviewed for H-War by David J. Ulbrich, Department of History,
Clarifying the Long- and Short-Term Causes of World War II
In _The Origins of World War Two: The Debate Continues_, Robert
Boyce and Joseph A. Maiolo bring together distinguished scholars to
discuss the causes of the Second World War. The editors believe
that it is too simple to blame the entry of the United States into
the conflict merely on the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor or to
argue that appeasement of Adolf Hitler was a sufficient cause for
war in Europe. The reality was much more complex. This anthology
draws the historiographical map using two approaches: national
studies and thematic studies.
The chapters in part 1 of this book focus on the major and minor
powers that became involved in the Second World War.
The chapters on Germany and Italy reject previous interpretations
holding that these powers reacted to developments in the
international arena. Instead, Christian Leitz and John Gooch
respectively show that Hitler and Mussolini long possessed ambitious
plans for territorial expansion. Hitler added a diabolical racist
twist to his plan for domination of Western Europe; his plan
succeeded until 1941 because of his shrewd diplomacy and other
nations' errors. Mussolini, for his part, exercised a remarkable
level of flexibility as he maneuvered to extract the best position
for Italy in European affairs. Both nations, however, suffered from
serious internal weaknesses which hurt their warmaking capabilities
once the conflict started.
Japan is expertly discussed by Antony Best. He brings the
historiographical debate about the origins of the Second World War
in Asia up to date. No more can Japan's high-ranking militarist
clique be solely blamed for starting the war. Nor can the attack on
Pearl Harbor be treated as resulting from American and Japanese
competition. Best seeks to place Japan into technological and
geographical contexts. He believes that many problems were caused
because Japan had been "wrestling with the effects of late
industrialization and the tensions created by the modernization
process" (p. 53). Expansion in Asia occurred because of a thirst
for raw materials and because of opportunities in those regions.
After completing their conquests, the Japanese wished to recast
their nation as an autarky. Its leaders expected that a short war
with China in the late 1930s would yield that nation's resources
with little cost. Chinese communism also needed to be contained.
However, according to Best, "Japan found itself trapped in a
conflagration from which it could not escape" (p. 66). Likewise,
the Japanese hoped to move into Southeast Asia with little trouble
because of declining European influence in that region. Instead,
Japan increasingly aroused the ire of the United States which in
turn led to embargoes and eventually the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Jonathan G. Haslam addresses the enigmatic Soviet Union and the
problematic Spanish Civil War in his chapter. Insuring the survival
of the Soviet Union stood as a major goal for Josef Stalin in the
late 1920s and 1930s. Towards that goal, Stalin worked to increase
Soviet industrial and military capabilities. His ideology
doubtlessly helped to shape his attitudes of fear and hatred for
Nazism and thus made him participate in the Spanish Civil War. Yet,
the same Stalin would later shrewdly join with Hitler in the
Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact because the English and French were
too slow to oppose Germany.
Peter Jackson and Williamson Murray examine France and Britain in
their respective chapters. These two so-called _status quo_ powers
worked to maintain peace and stability in Europe. The leaders of
both nations desired to use multilateralism rather than
_realpolitik_ to avoid future conflicts. Yet, those same leaders
were limited by particular assumptions, ideas, and perceptions.
Both nations retained horrific images of trench warfare in their
public memories. Such a world view meant that neither France nor
Britain directly challenged Hitler's Germany until it was too late.
As much as anything else, Jackson and Murray show that Edouard
Daladier and Neville Chamberlain lacked the distance or objectivity
with which to interpret actions by Germany, Italy, or Japan.
According to Warren F. Kimball in his chapter, the United States
remained locked in a Wilsonian mindset throughout the interwar
period. The mindset embodied by the Treaty of Versailles and the
League of Nations contained two fatal expectations: a single global
system, and equality among nations. If the problems caused by the
Great Depression are added into the mix, the isolationism of the
United States can be understood. For Kimball American isolationism
needs clarification; it aimed to avoid entangling alliances but
still strongly affect global politics and economics. He also denies
the common historical argument that American isolationism played a
major role in starting the Second World War; he puts the
responsibility on German and Japanese aggression combined with
French and British timidity. Nevertheless, Kimball points out,
Franklin D. Roosevelt certainly did recognize the increasing
dangers to peace in Europe and Asia. He wanted to protect
democracy, "the code word for American political liberty and
economic opportunity" (p. 139). Roosevelt cleverly modified American
neutrality to allow expanded assistance to Britain, most critically
after the fall of France in 1940. He hoped to keep the United
States out of the European conflict while preventing Germany from
winning that war. Simultaneously, he tried to deter Japanese
expansion in Asia, based on the assumption that they would not wish
to fight the superior United States. This assumption about Japan
turned out to be disastrously incorrect.
The chapters on the small powers share several similarities.
Poland, Czechoslovakia, China, and various neutral nations exerted
more agency and independence of action than is often presented in
histories. None were helpless victims who lacked foresight and
succumbed to overbearing neighbors. For example, Poland, in Anita J.
Prazmowska's chapter, possessed a complex foreign policy which was
driven by a need to find allies. France and Britain waited until
1939, when it was too late, to offer concrete support to the Poles.
For Igor Lukes, Czechoslovakia maintained a sizable military force
yet failed to reach out to other nations in Europe. In fact, during
the 1920s and early 1930s, Czechoslovakians feared Austria and
Hungary more than Germany. Having allowed itself to become
isolated, Czechoslovakia made an easy mark for Hitler. According to
John W. Garver, a weak and divided China contributed to
Japanese-American conflict. Chinese leaders attempted to play the
great powers off against one another, and they tried to organize a
coalition against Japan. All these schemes failed by 1937, but the
Chinese nonetheless showed amazing tenacity in resisting Japanese
invaders; indeed, as Garver concludes, Japan became "bogged down in
an open-ended, costly and essentially unwinnable war" in China (p.
194). Other neutral nations such as Belgium also possessed agency,
despite being targets of the great powers. Yet, as Neville Wylie
reveals, the neutrals remained on shaky ground. The First World War
had ruined the concept of neutrality because Germany had invaded
Belgium in 1914. Likewise, collective security as espoused in the
Treaty of Versailles also undermined neutrality as an option because
no nation could remain truly aloof in a war of aggression.
In part 2 of the book, titled "Themes," the contributors explore how
various topics factored into starting the Second World War.
Robert Jervis employs methodologies from international relations and
political science to help illuminate the years before the Second
World War. As a political scientist, he is concerned with finding a
model that accurately represents international behavior and then
applying the 1930s to that model. He tracks the ways in which those
pre-war years might fit into the international systems model, the
domestic sources of foreign policy model, and the decision-making
model. All have virtues in helpful analysis. The first model shows
that _realpolitik_ motivates nations; the second model points to the
unique government or societal structures as possible factors in
foreign policies; and the last model speaks to the need to analyze
personality, perception, and beliefs of the national leaders.
Ultimately, Jervis admits that political science offers no single
explanation about why the Second World War started. He does,
however, believe the model and perspectives can be useful in
analyzing the historical record.
In a chapter on "Peace Movements," P. M. H. Bell focuses on anti-war
tendencies in Britain and France between the world wars. People in
both nations became disillusioned by war following the slaughter of
1914-1918. Too many British and French men had fallen. Reactions
took two forms: a pacifism in which all wars were seen as immoral,
and a peace-minded internationalism in which wars were seen as
catastrophes to be avoided. While minorities in France and Britain
embraced pacifism, most tried to avoid war by finding alternatives
to it. Britain's Neville Chamberlain, for example, tried to appease
Germany's Adolf Hitler in hopes of satisfying him. Bell traces the
development of peace movements until 1939 when the conflict started.
Many anti-war elements in France and Britain then rallied around
their flags in nationalistic fervor.
Philip M. Taylor's chapter on propaganda illuminates an interesting
topic. In a matter-of-fact tone, he reveals that both dictatorships
and democracies employed propaganda to their respective advantages.
Soviet, German, and Italian regimes usurped control of media and
embarked on a calculated campaign to ensure domestic support or
international sympathy. British and French regimes also utilized
propaganda, albeit in a more benign way, to persuade their citizens
to support government policies and to fear other nations. For
example, the British government used publicity to promote its policy
of appeasement as an alternative to _realpolitik_. Chamberlain, for
example, was publicly heralded as the "peacemaker" after Munich in
1938. Once the conflict started, propaganda served as a significant
means of maintaining popular support for total war efforts.
The several remaining chapters offer useful insights on different
themes. Alan Cassels outlines how ideologies served as mental
frameworks that helped determine perceptions and actions of various
leaders and nations. Robert Boyce addresses economics as a factor in
Germany's and Japan's territorial expansions during the Great
Depression and the United States's, Britain's, and France's failures
to resist them until too late. He expands economics to include
industrial mobilization. Joseph A. Maiolo delves into a related
topic in his chapter on arms competition as a possible precipitant
for the Second World War. He finds that Japan and Germany moved too
quickly toward war, whereas France, the United States, and Britain
moved too slowly. In both cases, preparations and doctrines did not
always keep pace with new armaments. Nor could they be applied in
reality on the battlefield. In his chapter, John Ferris argues that
gathering and analysis of intelligence were colored by various
national, psychological, and ideological assumptions. Moreover,
tracing the impact of intelligence on decision-making can be
problematic because of hindsight. Ferris concludes that all
military and political leaders made mistakes regarding analysis of
intelligence; their failures helped create the volatile environment
in which the conflict erupted. Donald Cameron Watt covers the
diplomatic causes for the Second World War, a more traditional theme
with a large body of historiography. He surprises the reader,
though, by showing that the First World War had severely limited the
effectiveness of career diplomats--"diplomatists" as Watt calls
them. This in turn largely removed their expertise from the
diplomatic process. Instead, political leaders like Chamberlain,
Stalin, or Roosevelt carried on personal diplomacy with other
leaders, either directly or through close associates.
There is much to praise about this anthology edited by Boyce and
Maiolo. Almost every chapter includes extensive endnotes drawing on
sources in multiple languages. Scholars and students alike can
learn much from reading this volume. If it does not contain much
that will surprise scholars studying the period, the essays
nonetheless present a clear snapshot of the historiographical and
historical contexts of the years leading up to the Second World War.
Copyright (c) 2004 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits
the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit,
educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the
author, web location, date of publication, originating list,
H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For other uses
contact the Reviews editorial staff: email@example.com.
People are the only mirror we have to see ourselves in. The domain of all meaning. All virtue, all evil, are contained only in people. There is none in the universe at large. Solitary confinement is a punishment in every human culture. -- LM Bujold