Monday, July 1, 2013

Rendezvous with Destiny

Rendezvous with Destiny: How Franklin Roosevelt Took the United States into World War II

On July 3, Foreign Policy at The Brookings Institution will host Nonresident Senior Fellow Michael Fullilove, executive director of the Lowy Institute in Sydney, Australia, and author of the new book Rendezvous with Destiny: How Franklin D. Roosevelt and Five Extraordinary Men Took America into the War and into the World (Penguin Press, 2013).

Fullilove will present his account of FDR’s special envoys sent on missions to Europe in the lead-up to Pearl Harbor: Sumner Welles, a well-bred diplomat who was eventually forced out of the State Department for his sexual misadventures; “Wild Bill” Donovan, the Republican lawyer, adventurer and future spymaster; Harry Hopkins, the sickly social worker and political fixer; Wendell Willkie, a former Republican presidential candidate; and Averell Harriman, the railroad baron turned policy-maker. Taken together, the missions describe the progressive hardening of Roosevelt’s policy toward the dictators and plot the arc of America’s transformation from a reluctant middle power into the global leader.

Kurt Campbell, former Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and now chairman and CEO of The Asia Group, will join the discussion, which will be moderated by Brookings Vice President and Director of Foreign Policy Martin Indyk.

Japan's war in Asia, beginning in 1937 (if not 1931), was a subtext to Roosevelt's worries about the war in Europe. American Sundays were colored by urgent pleas by church missionaries to help the beleaguered Chinese. Newspapers reported horrific stories of massacre and mayhem. As Japan moved into Southeast Asia, Washington began to view the Japanese as they did the Germans. Yet, preparations for war in Asia followed a different course than those with Europe. 

With Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe adamant that the 1941 Hull Note was an ultimatum that tricked, if not forced Japan into war with the United States, understanding the pre-WWII environment is ever more important. Abe looks to this past and interprets it as Japan's glory. He wants to recapture and repackage it as enviable honor.

The Chinese have a different view. For them, the second world war began not in 1939 but in 1937 and they fought it more or less alone. Their sacrifices of people, treasure, and morality though rarely known outside China, permanently changed Chinese social and political perceptions. Today's China is not the creation of colonial Britain, the treaty ports, or the opium wars of the 19th century, but was formed on the bloody battlefields against Imperial Japan.

This is all outlined in a new book by Oxford Professor Rana Mitter, China's war with Japan, 1937-1945: The struggle for survival (To be published in America in September as Forgotten Ally: China’s World War II, 1937-45 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). [Book Review] [Economist Review] He writes: 
If we wish to understand the role of China in today's global society, we would do well to remind ourselves of the tragic, titanic struggle which that country waged in the 1930s and 1940s not just for its own national dignity and survival, but for the victory of all the Allies, west and east, against some of the darkest forces that history has ever produced.

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