In recent years, there has been a surge of new scholarship analyzing different aspects of the Second World War. However, one important side of the conflict that has largely escaped reassessment is the creation of American grand strategy. In other words, how the United States and the Allies would fight and win the war. In many of the classic studies of the Anglo-American war effort, it is often portrayed that President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), and their British counterparts (Roosevelt’s and Churchill’s senior uniformed military advisers, respectively) were the primary designers of Anglo-American military strategy; more specifically, that George C. Marshall, the U.S. Army Chief of Staff, and the JCS were the chief advocates of a direct assault on German military power through an invasion of northwestern Europe and the main opponents of British strategic designs, which envisioned a series of peripheral engagements in the Mediterranean basin designed to weaken the Germans in a war of attrition.
Yet, this representation is an incorrect oversimplification and needs rethinking. One of the problems with it is that it obscures other influential voices in these debates and assigns agency to the wrong figures. One of those overlooked voices is Henry Stimson, the U.S. secretary of war. This paper will explore Stimson’s role in the grand wartime strategic debates and argue that it was Stimson, not Marshall and the JCS, who was the real primary champion of opening a second European front in France. As secretary of war, Stimson was setting the agenda on the U.S. side and driving much of the strategic debate. While Stimson was consistently pushing for a direct European invasion, his military colleagues on the JCS oscillated between which strategies to pursue and were often internally divided over how to win the war. This division made it difficult to present a united front and coherently press for certain policies, like the cross-Channel invasion, to be adopted. By looking at these strategic debates in this manner, this paper shifts how we understand the often chaotic and divided American approach to winning the war.
Grant Golub is a second year PhD candidate in the Department of International History at The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). His dissertation examines U.S. Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, the War Department, and the politics of American grand strategy during the Second World War. Specifically, his thesis uses Stimson as a lens to assess the War Department's performance as a bureaucratic and political actor during wartime Washington's political and policy debates. His broader interests include U.S. diplomatic history, American grand strategy, and Anglo-American relations. Grant is also a project assistant at LSE IDEAS, LSE's foreign policy think tank; the seminar coordinator for the LSE-Sciences Po Seminar in Contemporary International History, and the editor of the LSE International History Blog. Grant has a BA in History and American Studies from Princeton University and an MSc in the history of international relations from LSE. He tweets at @ghgolub.
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