A wide-ranging examination of America’s entry into World War II as the Franklin Roosevelt administration juggled the demands of an isolationist Congress and voices urging early intervention.
Historian Wortman (The Bonfire: The Siege and Burning of Atlanta, 2009, etc.) sets the stage with two writers observing Hitler’s 1939 invasion of Poland, the spark that ignited the European phase of the war. William Shirer, the CBS radio correspondent in Berlin, was already appalled by Nazi oppression; the other, Phillip Johnson, was among the strongest American advocates of fascism. These two represent the two faces of American reaction to the war: conviction that the U.S. would inevitably be drawn into the war and determination to avoid involvement. Wortman expands the scope of the narrative to give a good account of both viewpoints. Isolationists ran the gamut from Theodore Roosevelt Jr., who felt America should fight only in self-defense, to Charles Lindbergh, whose anti-Semitism was at least as important a factor as his belief that Germany was invincible. Meanwhile, Winston Churchill, newly elevated to prime minister, lobbied incessantly for American aid to beleaguered Britain. Germany, Japan, and Italy, convinced that America would eventually take a side, played diplomacy and espionage for all they were worth. Wortman puts all this in the context of the events in Europe and the Pacific that pressured Roosevelt to commit the country to action, including submarine attacks on Atlantic convoys and Japanese aggression in mainland Asia. Plenty of interesting characters, including Roosevelt aide Harry Hopkins and Japanese spy Takeo Yoshikawa, add spice to the story. The author displays a nice sense of the dramatic scene and a solid ear for telling quotes, and ample documentation gives readers the opportunity to look further into the history. Even readers familiar with the broad history of the era are likely to find new insights and new details of the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that preceded Pearl Harbor.
An engaging and well-researched look behind the scenes of an important historic era. Highly recommended.