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Dwight Macdonald

Labor’s Book of the Month

White Paper Reveals British Role
in Lifting Arms Embargo

(May 1940)

From Labor Action, Vol. 4 No. 6, 20 May 1940, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“Is there anything we can do to help?” Roosevelt cabled each of his ambassadors during the Munich crisis. The answers could all be summed up: “Not without making some commitment.” But, as the authors of this book [1] sadly comment: “In view of American public opinion, a commitment was quite impossible.”

In spite of themselves. Alsop and Kintner have written a valuable book. They do their best to whitewash Roosevelt’s foreign policy. But. as exceptionally well-informed newspaper men, they can’t help constantly spotlighting the clash between Roosevelt’s warmongering and the deep anti-war sentiments of the American masses. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear what a powerful brake on Roosevelt’s war policies “public opinion” has been. How Roosevelt’s mouth watered at the prospect of throwing American weight into the scales and dominating the world! “But while he had the power.” note the authors. “our people continued to lack the will. Clear though our interests seemed, the President dared not assert our influence, utter a threat or offer a commitment, for fear of the political consequences.”

Reveals FDR War Moves

American White Paper is less exciting than its title suggests. There is not a great deal of important new material, considering the “pipe lines” Alsop and Kintner evidently have to the White House. But at least the story of Roosevelt’s steady march towards war is told here in some detail, and with many revealing flashes. To run over the main items:

Once war actually broke out, the tempo of the war drive speeded up. A series of war preparations were made with feverish haste:

Hides Real Aims

He called the special session of Congress to repeal the Arms Embargo and opened it with a “curious message,” (“It was curious because It did not once refer to the real aim behind the repeal drive, to permit the democracies to use the United States as their arsenal.”)

All through the story, Roosevelt’s foreign policy has this same “curious” character. As a shrewd politician, he is only too keenly aware of the anti-war temper of public opinion. He is therefore continually squirming and wriggling and maneuvering to smuggle his pro-war policies across disguised as anti-war policies. Alsop and Kintner give the whole show away when they write that Roosevelt has never “dared ... to present the issues of American foreign policy squarely to the people ... The fact is that from the Munich crisis through the spring of 1939 American policy was ingenious rather than forthright.” It could hardly be put any more plainly than that.

FDR – Liar Or Ignoramus?

“When Roosevelt saw that one plan contemplated accumulation of reserves to equip a large expeditionary force for Europe, he put his foot down hard, declaring, ‘You can base your calculations on an army of 730,000 men, for whatever happens, we won’t send troops abroad. We need only think of defending this hemisphere’.”
                                        – An American White Paper, by J. Alsop and R. Kintner, p. 65

“The new U. S. Army is a standing expeditionary force, designed for prompt conscript expansion into an expeditionary army of 750,000 active troops, 250,000 reserves ... The general staff has planned an outfit ready to be packed up and sent anywhere. The last place the Army expects to fight is on the U.S. mainland.”
                                        – Time, April 15, 1940

“The railroads, working in conjunction with the U.S. Army, have made plans whereby large bodies of soldiers could be moved through the port of New York without congesting it in the event that an American expeditionary force should be sent abroad. This was revealed by accident during I.C.C hearings yesterday in Brooklyn.”
                                        – N.Y. Times, April 24, 1940


1. American White Paper, by Joseph Alsop and Robert Kintner (Simon & Schuster, $1)

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