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Was Germany obliged to declare war?

Originally published under Ask Mr. History. Published Online: September 13, 2012 
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Because of the German Japanese alliance, was Germany obligated to declare war on the United States after Pearl Harbor, i. e., after the U S declared war on Japan? —Robert Kapanjie

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Dear Mr. Kapanjie,

Although Adolf Hitler's speech to the Reichstag was loaded with invective about Franklin Roosevelt's provocative acts making war unavoidable—under the instigations of the Jewish capitalists who controlled Roosevelt on behalf of a republic gone decadent under Jewish and black influence, Hitler claimed—the fact that he waited until December 11, 1941 to declare war suggests that Hitler gave the matter some serious thought. Although Germany had signed a Tripartite Pact with Italy and Japan on September 27, 1940, Germany was no more obligated to involve itself in a Far Eastern War than the Soviet Union was. Among Hitler's considerations was that since the war began Roosevelt's long-standing anti-Nazi policy had taken the form of the export of American weaponry to Allied powers through Lend-Lease, the American occupation of Greenland and Iceland, and the extension of U.S. Navy Neutrality Patrols after March 1941 to the more active role of seizing Axis merchant ships or reporting them and submarine activity to nearby Allied naval forces. There had also been outright clashes between U.S. Navy destroyers and German U-boats, culminating on October 31 with U-552 torpedoing the Reuben James, which went down along with 115 of its 159-man crew.

Hitler apparently weighed his concerns about war with another power—Germany was already engaged with the British Empire and the Soviet Union—against the fact that an undeclared state of war already existed with the United States. He also hoped that Japan would reciprocate by committing its substantial army in Manchuria against the Soviet Union, but there he made his most critical miscalculation. The Japanese army had previously tested Soviet power along the Manchurian-Mongolian border in 1939, and had disengaged with a bloody nose. When they signed a pact of mutual neutrality thereafter, both parties were willing to maintain it, the Soviets in order to focus on the German threat, and the Japanese to devote their energies toward driving the "Western imperialist powers" from Asia and the Pacific, as well as conquering China. For those ulterior motives, rather than through a sincere sense of "obligation," the neutrality agreement would not be dissolved until August 9, 1945, when the Soviet Union (in accordance with its pledge at the Potsdam Conference) declared war on Japan and its forces plunged into Manchuria. For much more detail on this topic, look for the November/December 2012 issue of World War II magazine, available at major newsstands beginning in October 2012, and the article "Four Days in December," by Gerhard Weinberg.

Sincerely,

 

Jon Guttman
Research Director
Weider History Group
More Questions at Ask Mr. History

 



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