Pearl Harbor Case Study

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A. Plan of Investigation Question: How did the attack on Pearl Harbor catalyze the transition of American foreign policy from isolationist to interventionist? Scope: I’m going to focus on how the attack on Pearl Harbor can be argued to be the catalyst for the shift from a hands-off approach of foreign policy (we don’t get involved) to a more direct involvement in foreign affairs. My opposing argument is that, as many historians argue, Isolationism was never actually an American approach to foreign policy. Also, there was an attack on the destroyer Greer before Pearl Harbor that could also be argued to catalyze the transition. I am looking from the 1920’s to the end of the 1940’s - after the war - as well as briefly at the present day situation to show how the change has affected the country up until this day. B. Summary Of Evidence America, in the interim period between World Wars, was characterized, by many orthodox historians, to be an isolationist society (Braumoeller 349). Historians such as Sidney Bradshaw Fay, Harry Elmer Barnes, and Walter Millis were promoting their rhetoric that there was nothing purposeful or glorious about war (Doeneke 202). The US had rejected membership into the League of Nations (Fleming). The Treaty of Versailles was killed in the senate by a vote of 49 to 35, 7 votes short of ratifying it (Braumoeller 355). America also failed to respond to the Nazi aggression in Europe (Divine 24-5). Indicators at the time, though, showed that Germany wasn’t that big of a threat until the fall of France (Braumoeller 349). America in the interim period used a method of negotiating that Bear Braumoeller termed “financial muscle” (Braumoeller 356). America set up the Washington Naval Conference of 1921-1922 (Braum... ... middle of paper ... ... ended before Pearl Harbor because the sinking of the US destroyer Greer led to FDR’s “shoot-on-sight” orders when it came to German warships in October of 1941 (Canham). The US, these historians would claim, was already moving towards a more interventionist stance due to the increasing aggressions of Germany, and Pearl Harbor just happened during this gradual shift. It may be the case that Pearl Harbor helped that transition along and allowed it to conclude more quickly than it would have otherwise, but the shift in American foreign policy would have happened either way-with or without Pearl Harbor. The historians who argue this side of the debate take the form of post-revisionist historians. They have found validity in the arguments of both the orthodox and revisionist historians’ arguments and, as a result, are proponents of a compromise between the two stances.
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