Book Review, History

Book Critique: “Hitler’s American Gamble”

Hitler’s American Gamble: Pearl Harbor and Germany’s March to Global War
by Brendan Simms, Charlie Laderman

My Rating: ★★★★

World War II was a cataclysmic event that reshaped and redefined the world in the 20th century. The United States found itself at the center of the global stage when it was “suddenly and deliberately attacked” by the Japanese Empire on December 7, 1941. However, it was not on that “date which will live in infamy” that the country found itself wrangled into fighting the entire Axis powers–that was not imminent. It was Hitler’s sudden declaration of war on the United States four days later on December 11, 1941, that transformed the conflagration into a worldwide war. How do we make sense of the decision to bring the heavy-hitting United States in as an enemy of the Reich? Hitler’s declaration of war on the United States was a calculated (or miscalculated) move, as the authors argue, to bring victory to the Third Reich.

I truly enjoyed this book and couldn’t put it down–I literally got scolded by my wife, BookedInWisco, that I was reading while at the dinner table. It’s about 400 pages long and covers a week’s worth of events–December 6 through 12 of 1941. Each chapter covers an individual day in the timeframe mentioned. On each day we learn of events occurring across the globe in important places like Berlin, London, Washington, Honolulu, Tokyo, and Moscow, to name a few. We learn of the Reich’s stalled Eastern Front campaign against the Soviets and the scramble to solidify the Axis powers in preparation for war against the United States; Churchill’s government wanting more war materiel through the American Lend-Lease program to fight Fascism at home and in Northern Africa; the Roosevelt administration trying to stay out of armed conflict while also supplying the Allies; Finally, Tokyo covertly moving its navy into position to strike at Pearl Harbor while also giving the illusion of peace through useless negotiations with American Diplomats. This is such a nail-biting account of events playing out–only because the authors show a slight change of events/choices in those tense days could have changed history as we know it.

I think the authors dispelled a lot of myths or maybe misunderstood the history of the events that happened at the end of 1941. First of all, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor did not drag the United States into the war ravaging Europe. Roosevelt knew Hitler was the core of the “Axis of Evil”, but he also knew he couldn’t declare war on Germany without provocation–Congress nor the American opinion was ready for war. Even after Pearl Harbor was attacked, there was no declaration of war nor broad public backing to enter the European conflict. Hitler, too, only made strategic moves and seized moments to his advantage or as a means to victory. He made sure not to “not provoke the United States more than absolutely necessary” at first. He finally resorted to declaring war as a preemptive measure–as he saw war with America as inevitable. He sought to seize that moment of American vulnerability and military weakness in order to edge out his enemies, who were receiving help from America up until a brief stall after December 7, before facing full American might. Only now can we look back and see his military/ideological move as a strategic error–as the authors suggest.

Overall, this book totally rocks. I loved it. I do have to say that the final statement in the book sort of threw me for a loop as to what the authors were arguing–with a wide range of sources as proof, by the way. They slipped in their subjective analysis that the Axis powers would have lost the war regardless of the Japanese choice to attack Pearl Harbor or Hitler’s decision to declare war on the United States. How could they close on that after showing us just how consequential Hitler’s declaration was on December 11, 1941.

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