On December 11, 1941, several days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States declaration of war against the Japanese Empire, Nazi Germany declared war on the United States, in response to what was claimed to be a series of provocations by the United States government when the US was formally neutral during World War II. The decision to declare war was made almost entirely by Adolf Hitler, without consultation. Later that day, the United States declared war on Germany.
On December 7, 1941, the Empire of Japan launched an attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, beginning a war between Japan and the United States. According to the terms of the Anti-Comintern Pact, Germany was obliged to come to the aid of Japan if a third country attacked Japan, but not if Japan attacked a third country. Nevertheless, the German government chose to declare war on the United States, partially in response to previous acts of Anglo-American cooperation such as the Destroyers for Bases Agreement, Lend-Lease, the Atlantic Charter, the hand-over of military control of Iceland from the United Kingdom to the United States, the extension of the Pan-American Security Zone, and many other co-operative efforts from the special relationship that had developed over decades of time, even well before Hitler's Machtergreifung in 1933, between the U.S. and Great Britain.
Hitler's declaration of war came as a great relief to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who feared the possibility of two parallel disconnected wars (UK and Soviet Union versus Germany in Europe, US versus Japan in the Pacific). With Nazi Germany's declaration against the United States in force, American assistance for Britain in both theaters of war as a full ally was assured. It also simplified matters for the American government, as John Kenneth Galbraith recalled:
When Pearl Harbor happened, we [Roosevelt's advisors] were desperate. ... We were all in agony. The mood of the American people was obvious – they were determined that the Japanese had to be punished. We could have been forced to concentrate all our efforts on the Pacific, unable from then on to give more than purely peripheral help to Britain. It was truly astounding when Hitler declared war on us three days later. I cannot tell you our feelings of triumph. It was a totally irrational thing for him to do, and I think it saved Europe."
As early as mid-March 1941 – nine months before the Japanese attack – President Roosevelt was acutely aware of Hitler's hostility towards the United States, and the destructive potential it presented. Due to this attitude within the White House, and the rapidly progressing efforts of the Americans' industrial capacity before and through 1941 to start providing its armed forces with the ordnance, combat aircraft and ships that would be required to defeat the Axis as a whole, Hitler's decision to declare war on the United States showed that he disastrously underestimated American military production capacity, the United States' own ability to fight on two fronts, and the time his invasion of the Soviet Union would require. Regardless of Hitler's reasons for the declaration, the decision is generally seen as an enormous strategic blunder on his part, as it allowed the United States to enter the European war in support of the United Kingdom and the Allies without much public opposition, while still facing the Japanese threat in the Pacific.
Text of the German declarationEdit
On December 11, 1941, American Chargé d'Affaires Leland B. Morris, the highest ranking American diplomat in Germany, was summoned to Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop's office where Ribbentrop read Morris the formal declaration. The text was:
MR. CHARGE D'AFFAIRES:
The Government of the United States having violated in the most flagrant manner and in ever increasing measure all rules of neutrality in favor of the adversaries of Germany and having continually been guilty of the most severe provocations toward Germany ever since the outbreak of the European war, provoked by the British declaration of war against Germany on September 3, 1939, has finally resorted to open military acts of aggression.
On September 11, 1941, the President of the United States publicly declared that he had ordered the American Navy and Air Force to shoot on sight at any German war vessel. In his speech of October 27, 1941, he once more expressly affirmed that this order was in force. Acting under this order, vessels of the American Navy, since early September 1941, have systematically attacked German naval forces. Thus, American destroyers, as for instance the Greer, the Kearney and the Reuben James, have opened fire on German submarines according to plan. The Secretary of the American Navy, Mr. Knox, himself confirmed that-American destroyers attacked German submarines.
Furthermore, the naval forces of the United States, under order of their Government and contrary to international law have treated and seized German merchant vessels on the high seas as enemy ships.
The German Government therefore establishes the following facts:
Although Germany on her part has strictly adhered to the rules of international law in her relations with the United States during every period of the present war, the Government of the United States from initial violations of neutrality has finally proceeded to open acts of war against Germany. The Government of the United States has thereby virtually created a state of war.
The German Government, consequently, discontinues diplomatic relations with the United States of America and declares that under these circumstances brought about by President Roosevelt Germany too, as from today, considers herself as being in a state of war with the United States of America.
Accept, Mr. Charge d'Affaires, the expression of my high consideration.
December 11, 1941.
- ↑ Galbraith, John Kenneth, interviewed by Gitta Sereny in Albert Speer: His Battle with the Truth New York, Knopf (1995). p.267-8. ISBN 0-394-52915-4
- ↑ Alexander, Bevin. How Hitler Could Have Won World War II New York: Crown, 2000. p.108 ISBN 0-8129-3202-1
- ↑ Kershaw, Ian. Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions the Changed the World, 1940-1941 New York: Penguin, 2007. pp.382-430 ISBN 978-1-59420-123-3
- ↑ Fest, Joachim C. Hitler New York: Vintage, 1975. pp.655-657 ISBN0=394-72023-7
- ↑ Burleigh, Michael The Third Reich: A New History New York: Hill and Wang, 2000. pp.731-732 ISBN 9780809093250
- ↑ Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich New York: Simon and Schuster, 1960. p.900
- ↑ Read, Anthony (2004). The Devil's Disciples: Hitler's Inner Circle. W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 783. ISBN 978-0-393-04800-1.
- ↑ "German Declaration of War with the United States : December 11, 1941". The Avalon Project. Lillian Goldman Law Library. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/wwii/gerdec41.asp. Retrieved 2 November 2013.
- Department of State Bulletin. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office (December 13, 1941)
- Genoud, François (ed.) The Testament of Adolf Hitler. The Hitler–Bormann Documents, February–April 1945. London, 1961.
- Kershaw, Ian, Hitler: 1936–1945: Nemesis London, 2000.
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