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  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.”
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:
- The Munich crisis, when “positive and realistic policy-making became unavoidable” for Roosevelt. (His policy was so “positive” as to frighten Chamberlain and Daladier. In the first half year after Munich, the axis of the anti-Hitler front ran through Washington and not through Paris and London.)
- The recall of U.S. Ambassador Wilson from Berlin after the November pogroms in Germany. (“In the State Department, a strong faction favored a mere written expression of disapproval to Hitler. They were overruled by the President.”)
- The great French plane purchase scandal ... the “Our frontier is on the Rhine” statement ... the penalty duties placed on German imports (on the excuse of “dumping”) after Hitler took Czechoslovakia.
- Roosevelt’s message to Hitler and Mussolini in April 1939 asking them to guarantee the integrity of a long list of countries, beginning with Finland, Esthonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. (This message, in the light of later events, seems to have been sent to the wrong address.)
- The backstage “chats” Hull and Roosevelt had with key senators trying to line up enough votes to jam through repeal of the Arms Embargo. (“Unfortunately, most of Hull’s pleading and the President’s reasoning might as well have been addressed to the empty air,” write the authors, meaning that Congressmen have to be much more sensitive to mass sentiment than presidents and State departments do.)
- The secret conversations that summer between officials of the British and the American governments, arranging the details about the future purchase of munitions over here by the Allies. (“The English government, hoping for repeal of the arms embargo, had sent Lord Riverdale over to study purchasing methods with the Treasury’s procurement division during the summer” This “hope” of His Majesty’s Government was later realized, with the help of the White House.)
Once war actually broke out, the tempo of the war drive speeded up. A series of war preparations were made with feverish haste:
- Roosevelt issued the decree of “limited national emergency,” which gave him dictatorial powers when and if he chose to use them.
- He set the G-men to tracking down enemy spies and aliens, with special attention to “reds.”
- He held up the sailing of the Bremen with the vain hope that the British fleet would be able to catch her outside New York.
- He announced his famous 300-mile “safety zone” around North and South America, within which no belligerent submarine or warship could operate. (Originally, it was to be 100 miles wide but “the President redrew the map with the help of a ruler on his desk, widening the zone to an average of 300 miles and straightening its boundary.” As easy as that! But the British didn’t like the idea, and Roosevelt tactfully let it become a dead letter.)
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’.”
“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.”
“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.”
1. American White Paper, by Joseph Alsop and Robert Kintner (Simon & Schuster, $1)
Last updated: 26.8.2012