THE ORIGINS OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR by Arnold Offner

THE ORIGINS OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Professor Offner has produced a classic specimen of the sort of analysis which views History as consisting of ""one damned thing after another."" The book is a survey, which traces the ""intentions, purposes and responsibilities, as well as the limits or possibilities, of American foreign policy in the events leading up to the Second World War."" The quest for ""origins"" takes us back to 1914 and even (threatening an infinite regress) to Hay's ""Open Door"" of 1899-1900. His methodology is to present (""in a multi-national or world political context"") every conceivable factor relevant to the determination of American policy, stressing especially the ways in which developments were ""not entirely foreseen, and to a surprising extent not entirely controlled"" by the policy-makers. Offner's talents are considerable. He writes lucidly, his judgments are fair and balanced, and he is capable of synthesizing various and complex strands without stripping them of their complexity (his discussion of America's ""dollar-diplomacy"" and half-in half-out isolationism of the 1920's is particularly good). The book is something of a tour de force of intelligent compression and analysis. But the limitations of this sort of ""seamless web"" historiography are manifest. As one event follows the next, the historian appears unwilling or unable to judge the relative importance of the panoply of ""causes."" Everything seems as important -- or as unimportant -- as everything else. When Offner attempts to supplement his well-known story with some special interpretations of his own (for example, the stress put on the ""embittered state of Anglo-American relations"" between the wars) the reader is disposed merely to shrug and wearily add still another item to an already long list of ""explanations."" Unsurprisingly, Offner has written no concluding chapter. Having reached the end of this book all one can do is. . . go back and start again at the beginning.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1975
Publisher: Praeger