Jenel Virden - From Munich to Pearl Harbor: Roosevelt's America and the Origins of the Second World War (review) - Journal of Military History 67:1 The Journal of Military History 67.1 (2003) 266-267

From Munich to Pearl Harbor: Roosevelt's America and the Origins of the Second World War. By David Reynolds. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2001. ISBN 1-56663-389-3. Sources. Index. Pp. x, 209. $24.95.

In his latest volume, David Reynolds discusses United States foreign policy in the years immediately proceeding America's entry into the Second World War. The author gives a narrative account of events, from Munich to Pearl Harbor, which had an impact in three areas: Roosevelt's policies, public perceptions and precedents for the postwar world. Reynolds notes that Roosevelt was able to replace the weakened New Deal coalition with one based on foreign policy and aid to Great Britain. This transition could happen because Roosevelt was able to negotiate resistance to German aggression in the Atlantic, to the point of undeclared naval war. However, FDR was less able to manipulate policy in the Pacific because, according to Reynolds, opinion was more divided over Japan.

The author then goes on to discuss the way FDR altered the American people's perceptions from a strictly hemispheric concern to a more global attitude. FDR's newly coined term "national security" worked to broaden the United States's interests in the world. Reynolds suggests that it was necessary for Roosevelt to alter perceptions based on ideology. If Germany, Japan, and Italy were totalitarian regimes, then democracy was the only way to defeat them. Britain was repackaged as less class based, less imperialist, and more egalitarian. The Atlantic Charter and Four Freedoms provided the rhetorical foundations for FDR's use of democratic ideology to define the war's aims.

Reynolds's final point looks at the precedents set during the period 1938-41, which would have an impact on the Cold War. He suggests that U.S. foreign policy, especially in 1940-41, has been neglected when analyzing how the United States emerged as a superpower and how its Cold War ideology evolved. Reynolds traces the prewar origins of Cold War traditions such as how: globalism led to the establishment of NATO; the charge of totalitarianism was applied to the Soviet Union; the imperial presidency under FDR led to Johnson's and Nixon's policies in Vietnam; the failure of intelligence at Pearl Harbor led to the wartime establishment of the OSS and later the CIA, and Roosevelt's push for atomic research led to the development of the atomic bomb and the Cold War nuclear arms race. By tracing the development [End Page 266] of Roosevelt's policy initiatives between 1938 and 1941, Reynolds is able to show that many of the United States's Cold War ideas predate the wartime conferences often suggested as harboring the origins of the postwar conflict. This thin volume is a good, concise overview of the foreign policy of the United States in the crucial years just prior to American involvement in World War II. Reynolds includes an excellent account of the historiography of Roosevelt and his wartime policies that should be standard practice for volumes of this nature. The book would make an excellent addition to any undergraduate course on World War II or U.S. Cold War foreign policy and should not be overlooked by scholars who want a succinct account of the development of American globalism and Cold War ideology.


Jenel Virden
University of Hull
Hull, England

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