Wednesday, March 13, 2013

David Mayers's "FDR's Ambassadors and the Diplomacy of Crisis"

David Mayers holds a joint appointment in the History and Political Science departments at Boston University. His books include George Kennan and the Dilemmas of US Foreign Policy and The Ambassadors and America's Soviet Policy.

Mayers applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, FDR's Ambassadors and the Diplomacy of Crisis: From the Rise of Hitler to the End of World War II, and reported the following:
This book constitutes an investigation into the effects that personality and circumstance had on US foreign policy during World War II. In the book I give an account of US envoys residing in the major belligerent countries--Japan, Germany, Italy, China, France, Great Britain, USSR--and highlight the fascinating role played by such diplomats as Joseph Grew, William Dodd, William Bullitt, Joseph Kennedy, John Winant, and W. Averell Harriman. Between Hitler's 1933 ascent to power and the 1945 atomic bombing of Nagasaki, US ambassadors sculpted formal policy--occasionally deliberately, other times inadvertently--giving shape and meaning not always intended by FDR or predicted by his principal advisors. From appeasement to the Holocaust and the onset of the Cold War, I examine the complicated interaction between policy, as conceived in Washington, and implementation on the ground in Europe and Asia. By so doing, I also shed needed light on the fragility, ambiguities, and enduring urgency of diplomacy and its crucial function in international politics.

The scene on p. 99 is centered on FDR's man in China, Ambassador Nelson Johnson. The year is 1937, famously associated with the "rape of Nanjing"--that city then serving as Chiang Kai-shek's capital. Johnson was evacuated from Nanjing shortly before the Japanese captured the city and perpetrated their misdeeds upon its civilian inhabitants and defeated Chinese defenders. Although Johnson did not directly witness the occupation of Nanjing, he did experience the city's pre-surrender bombings. These epitomized for him an inhumanity for which the Japanese would ultimately pay. He wrote presciently in September 1937: "Some day the Japanese will regret their senseless bombings of towns for someone will subject them to a similar treatment and the world will be silent for they will have no court into which they can go with dirty hands." Before that dreadful reckoning, Johnson predicted, Japanese forces would become enmeshed in a China war that they could not finish, engaged by guerrillas and regulars that, however ragged, stood a fair chance to drain Tokyo's wealth and morale. In the meantime he argued to FDR and State Department seniors on behalf of generous aid to China, not a line of reasoning persuasive to then dominant isolationists in Washington.
Read an excerpt from FDR's Ambassadors and the Diplomacy of Crisis and learn more about the book at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue