by William T. Johnsen
Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2016. Pp. xx, 406.
Illus., maps, digs., personae, notes, biblio., index. $50.00. ISBN: 0813168333
The Evolution of the “Special Relationship”
In what is a ground breaking book, Prof. Johnsen (Army War College), author of Deciphering the Balkan Enigma and similar works on history and policy, pushes the origins of the Anglo-American grand alliance back into the late 1930s. He opens with two retrospective chapters, one aptly titled “Lessons Lived, Learned, Lost” on Anglo-American military cooperation during World War I, and the second, “Neither Friend Nor Foe,” covering relations from the Great War and America’s retreat from internationalism through the 1920s and Great Depression, a period of at times cool relations between the two powers which began to warm with the rise of fascism through the mid-1930s.
Then, in a series of increasingly detailed chapters, Johnsen digs into talks about ties between the countries on military cooperation. These were initially sparked by Japanese aggression in the Far East, and expanded with the rise of Nazi Germany, the Italo-Ethiopian War, and the Spanish Civil War, through about 1938, when the possibility of major war led to increasing contacts. These contacts became increasingly stronger with the outbreak of the European War in 1939, and by the time Japan attacked Pearl Harbor the U.S. and Britain were already virtually allied. While the end result of these talks is well known, they have largely been neglected, as more attention has been focused on wartime events from 1939 through 1941, which is what makes this work very interesting reading.
While covering talks, often informal and even covert, between civilian and military officials of both powers, Johnsen also reminds us of how isolationism in America and British pacifism affected improving ties between the two countries; at a time when even a little open cooperation might have yielded major results, domestic concerns dampened possible collaboration. There are a number of interesting surprises in the book, most notably effort by Neville Chamberlain, who even before Munich had pushed major military expansion, to reach out to the U.S., which run counter to his perceived status as an “Appeaser.”
The Origins of the Grand Alliance, a volume in the University Press of Kentucky’s “Battles and Campaigns” series, is an indispensable read for anyone interested in the political history of the Second World War and the origins of the “Special Relationship”.
Note: The Origins of the Grand Alliance is also available in pdf, ISBN 978-0-8131-6835-7, and as an e-pub, ISBN 978-0-8131-6836-4.