Diplomacy of 1919-1945
Gestapo officers dressed German convicts
in German uniforms, murdered them, photographed them,
announced them to be Germans killed in an unprovoked
Polish assault across the German frontier, and,
with this surrealist pretext, Adolf Hitler launched the German Army
into the greatest war in history: the date, 1 September 1939.
The event was preceded by the most shocking diplomatic event of
the century, a German-Soviet Pact of Non-Aggression, announced
10 August 1939. On 3 September, France and Great Britain declared
war upon Germany. On 17 September, the Soviet Army invaded
Poland from the East, and quickly arrived at an agreed-upon
demarcation where the Third Reich-Soviet Union boundary would
be - only for the next year, as it turned out.
Soviet security troops, as if matters had gone too smoothly,
collected all the surrendering Polish officers whom they could lay
their hands on, 15,000 in all, conveyed them to the Katyn Forest,
and there butchered them to a man. (The Soviet Union denied the
massacre for fifty years until on its deathbed. The U.S. government
also refused to acknowledge the event for many years, because
originally it had spread the Soviet lie that the massacre was the
work of the Nazis.)
Excited by their press and radio, American public opinion, during the
fifteen years before these events, was dedicated more to
recovering debts owed it from World War I than it was to peace,
justice, cooperation, and order in the world. France, Britain and
other nations owed perhaps forty billion dollars to the United States
with constantly accumulating interest, funds which the debtors could
declare were used for the benefit of the United States as a belligerent
Ally; further these debts could be paid only
if Germany paid her reparations; this she could not do.
The U.S. government argued that the two kinds of obligations were
separately incurred, and that collecting from Germany was their own
problem. Wrangling, furor, and rancor tensed the hostility of U.S.
isolationists toward the former Allies. American tariffs rose in
agriculture and manufacturing to make it ever more difficult for
debtor nations to sell the goods to America that would give them
credits with which to pay off debt. Of course, in the end, the debts
were forgiven in the face of a new War, and far greater mutual
obligations came up in the course of World War II, which were not
really intended for repayment.
Between the two World Wars, the USA was by no means
inactive economically in the world. It was acting rather as Japan
did during the Cold War following World War II
between the USA and the Soviet Union: feathering its nest.
Its companies and businessmen went searching for bargains
at the expense of the war-weakened nations.
The government sought most-favored nation treatment all
around the world. It was eager to help any American company,
of which there were many, that sought to exploit new markets
and gain preferred, or monopolist, status in old ones.
In World War II, the government stepped up its efforts
on behalf of American enterprise abroad and
began to set up agencies for the purpose, in the fields
of tariff bargaining, information and communications, and finance.
Trade followed the flag, trade blossomed out of cannon barrels,
at a faster rate than ever.
The case of petroleum is illustrative. In the early 1920's the U.S. was
still relying upon its domestic oil sources to
fuel its power plants and transportation system.
Agitators like Geology Professor Charles K. Leith of the
University of Wisconsin dedicated themselves to getting
the country to go out after the mineral resources of the world,
instead of letting other countries get in first,
instead of waiting for America's resources to dwindle
before taking action. Official State Department policy
was to lend all aid to American oil interests abroad.
Because of the opposition of American mine owners,
the Leith argument could not sway Congress ;
the owners wanted compensation and subsidies for letting
foreign imports cut into their markets, so,
as usually happens in a democracy, both policies were adopted,
securing foreign resources, and
guaranteeing profits on domestic sources.
American interests were paramount in Mexico, and there
the populist Mexican government stood in the way of complete control.
The Mexicans wanted to nationalize sub-soil valuables.
The struggle for priority in Mexico occupied a group of American
diplomats and oil companies for two decades.
Meanwhile another set was at economic war in the Middle East,
where British interests had gotten in earlier.
Finally in 1928, the British allowed the Americans
a 25% interest in their Mesopotamian concessions and the
whole situation was turned toward the USA by World War II.
Similar disputes and settlements occurred in Iran (Persia).
Although American interests had moved in early to
monopolize Columbian oil, a nationalist government
there raised problems and had to be cajoled,
threatened financially and then given loan assurances to
allow smooth sailing to American interests. At the same time,
Americans had written Venezuelan mineral policies law,
monopolized its production and distribution, and made the
country the world's largest exporter by 1928.
In the early 1920's Harvey Firestone sought to develop a
rubber-growing empire in Liberia, the nation formed
originally of freed American slaves, who were now
dictating to the natives. Liberia's credit was poor, naturally, and
Firestone felt he could only invest huge sums if the
U.S. government backed him up. It did.
Liberia had to accept a controlling American financial commission.
Firestone ran the commission and became de facto
dictator of Liberia for a political generation.
A hitch had originally developed because Marcus Garvey,
charismatic leader of a half-million member,
back-to-Africa, American group,
who had been promised haven by the Liberians,
had to be sent packing. At the behest of the U.S.
State Department, the Liberian government
found that his movement was a threat to law and order
(and to its rich bribes).
This is part of a rubber story that stretched everywhere,
led by men who saw the invisible hand of God in
laissez-faire when an issue of social welfare was raised
at home or anywhere. Congress appropriated money
for a worldwide rubber resources survey, and
what became the first geological survey of the Amazon basin:
cars needed tires.
Alexander Hamilton would have been pleased.
Third world countries, poor countries,
technologically undeveloped countries,
whether highly civilized or termed primitive, were
simply no match for the combination of American private
investors and their government supporters moving in
upon their resources, whether we speak of
minerals, metals, fisheries, forest products, or labor;
and, what was paid the poor resource-providers
to extract their valuables, came back to America also
to pay for pharmaceuticals, movies, and coca-cola.
A famous line from the mouth of comedian
W.C.Fields applies: "Never give a sucker an even break." But then,
too, there was always a man of God around (usually one of the
Protestant Gods) to massage the transaction with a kind word.
The principles and tactics of America's search and pursuit of the
world's wealth were familiar, and worked for the full political
generation under scrutiny, 1919 to 1945, and
in fact were employed from the beginning of the nation
down to the present day.
Americans working in the broader world claimed that:
They wanted stable
exchange rates based upon gold (or later the dollar).
They wanted free access to all world markets
and free trade.
They sought stable investments, non-socialist, and non-threatening forms
They desired to establish and maintain a free flow of information and
They frowned upon all government monopolies.
They believed - officials, businessmen, scholars and missionaries -
that this constellation of policies would be best for America, for the
countries concerned and for the world.
Contradictions of behavior in foreign relations were many.
In no country at any time throughout the whole of
this generation, could an American chargé d'affaires
honestly declare that there were not acute violations
of this set of principles occurring at that moment,
nor furthermore could be deny that his duty was to
abet the contradictions.
American policy around the world was to promulgate
the philosophy and then subtract from its conclusions
in any given case the U.S. national interest
plus the business interests or philanthropic interests
of any Americans who were venturing into the area.
What was left of the original philosophy,
even if only a wisp of air, should be a matter for
self-congratulation. And the clergyman referred to above.
The League of Nations, set up at Geneva, Switzerland,
for its neutral atmosphere, was America's gift to the world,
renounced officially by the USA and
subsequently criticized negatively until
its demise in World War II. The League worked badly
in the political sphere, but conducted many useful
humanitarian and welfare operations.
It was, of course, the predecessor of the United Nations, with which
this chapter ends, and turned over its assets, much of its structure, a
fairly close version of its powers, and its record of limited successes
and overall failure to the new world organization of 1945.
The major difference was the absence of the United States
in the League, and its leadership of the UN.
Until the end of the twentieth century, the difference hardly mattered.
Both were political flops.
Important agreements in which the U.S. engaged,
such as those on naval armaments limitations and on peace
(the Kellogg-Briand Pact of Paris, 1928)
did not employ the League.
The Pact of Paris was signed by 15 nations, and
then won the adherence of almost all nations.
Signatories renounced war as an instrument of national policy, and
agreed to settle international disputes by peaceful means.
Frank Kellogg was Hoover's Secretary of State, Briand leader of France.
The U.S. Senate tacked a proviso peremptorily
onto the Treaty declaring that American action
taken in pursuance of the Monroe Doctrine would be
regarded ipso facto as an act of self-defense.
The Pact was broken within three years by Japan's invasion of
Manchuria, and, eight years later, by Italy's invasion of Ethiopia. It
did provide a useful brick in the edifice of international law by
implicitly condemning aggression and providing for its punishment,
a highly controversial but nonetheless effective basis for dealing
with war criminals following World War II.
Japan wanted in substance a Monroe Doctrine of its own,
so far as China and the area around was concerned.
They already had Korea in hand.
The U.S. regarded the Monroe Doctrine as sui generis.
However, to encourage Japanese efforts against Germany
in World War I, a Lansing-Ishii agreement was signed in 1917
that recognized a special interest of Japan in China.
The U.S. action was foolish and unnecessary.
It seemed to be rectified when nine powers signed a treaty
providing an "Open Door" in China and guaranteeing
that nation's integrity (its "integrity" was a fiction,
what with various warlords dividing up the country).
When the Japanese invaded Manchuria (1931)
and then China, the League could not rouse itself
to sanction them severely.Nor did U.S.protests avail.
Americans now watched angrily a ten-year agony of the Chinese,
for, after setting up a puppet emperor in Manchuria,
the Japanese attacked China proper, and
committed war crimes beyond number there.
In 1935 Fascist Italy invaded Ethiopia, after inventing provocations,
and incorporated the vast region into its hopeful Empire.
The League of Nations imposed only limited sanctions,
such being the weak will of the British and French,
who were semi-dictators of the League.
The USA nervously clucked favorably of the Ethiopians.
German troops marched into the Rhineland in 1936,
after the French withdrew their occupation forces,
without a strong reaction, though they were acting
in violation of the Treaty of Locarno for mutual security,
that the European powers had all signed in 1925.
Next came the Spanish Civil War: 700,000 combatants died;
30,000 were executed; cities were bombed and
15,000 civilians killed; Pablo Picasso painted "Guernica."
The Spanish Republic was renewing attempts at the
redistribution of large estates and the promotion of
workers' rights and wages, when an army revolt broke out,
backed by conservatives and the Catholic Church.
Soon Italy and Germany began to ship war materiel
and troops and planes to Spain in aid of the rightists,
while the Soviet Union came to the aid of
the Loyalist government.
Communists, anarchists, socialists, and liberals struggled among
themselves to control the Loyalist government. Among the
communists the followers of Stalin and those of exiled Trotsky were
deadly enemies. Stalin bolstered his claim to be the century's
worst human being by extracting from the hard-pressed Spanish government
500 tons of gold to pay for goods and to guard it.
He also quashed the precious opportunity for a
communist-inspired government to win over the hearts and minds
of a great culture.
In the end the rebels, now brilliantly organized under General
Francisco Franco, won, and Spain became an accomplice of Hitler
and Mussolini. France and Britain were readying themselves
psychologically for further appeasement of the fascist powers. The
Western intelligentsia and liberals felt the defeat keenly. It was
rehearsal for World War II.
The United States, by far the most productive power in the world,
held to an "isolationist" position in the War;
its citizens fought battles of opinion;
private groups lent aid to one or the other belligerent.
American radicals sent to Spain an Abraham Lincoln battalion;
the Catholic Church and the Federal Bureau of Investigation
denounced communists and liberals for
supporting the Loyalists.
Isolationism did not keep Americans from
bad-mouthing their erstwhile Allies for appeasing the dictators.
Hitler's legions marched into Vienna in 1938,
to the cheers of Austrian Nazis and a drummed up populace;
it was "Anschluss," a union of Germanics.
The next group of Germanics to be anschlussed were the Sudetan
Germans, a couple of million people who had been unjustly turned
over to the new Czech Republic after World War I,
just because there were some Czechs among them, and
a good defensive line in the region for resisting Germany
should War come again.
Now, in the same year, Hitler demanded the Sudetanland,
Sudetan Nazis demonstrated continuously, and
a conference was called for Munich where Hitler and
his good friend Benito Mussolini met with
Prime Minister Chamberlain and Premier Daladier.
There the infamous appeasement of Hitler was concocted;
in return for mutual assurances of peace,
the Sudetan was chopped off of Czechoslovakia,
and with it the confidence of the world in the
containment of Nazism and the well-fortified defense line
against a German attack to the East.
Next year, the German Army simply walked into Czechoslovakia;
Bohemia was separated from Slovakia; both peoples became Nazi
serfs. Nevermore, said Chamberlain, but who could believe him?
Guffaws from America fell upon European ears.
As each disaster occurred around the world, U.S. politicians and
media congratulated their government and people for having avoided
involvement, rather than blaming it for not interceding on behalf of
peace and justice. The latter position belonged to a few liberals and
radicals. Despite their government's attempts to embargo war material
shipments to belligerents, privately Americans were keen to sell
weapons and munitions to the aggressors and did so.
Time after time neutrality bills were voted,
amended, nullified, relegislated, until Pearl Harbor Day.
Somehow a proper wording of the American position
could not be found. The fact has always been clear:
whenever the words neutrality or neutral rights are heard,
one can be sure that they are being used on behalf of one powerful
set of interests against another.
The same is true of the word "isolationism."
Besides getting people killed and destroying economies,
politicians worldwide remained adept at
murdering honest language.
Hitler's rise and ultimate triumph made the democratic German
Republic of the Weimar Constitution look bad, but the
Constitution was well-drawn and the Republic withstood remarkably
well the terrible pressures of reconstruction and recuperation of
morale, Anglo-French oppression and containment throughout the
world, the rise of strong parties of the extreme left and right, the
resentment against the Versailles Treaty, and even the wild inflation of
the early Twenties and the deep depression of the
end of the decade.
If the Weimar Republic had enjoyed a stalwart backer like the
United States was to the German Republic after World War II,
probably it would have survived and the wholesale destruction
visited upon European civilization would not have taken place.
The Nazis were strong, but never a majority.
They were allowed to maintain a private, uniformed army,
the Brown shirts, who terrorized the dissenting population.
Once Adolf Hitler was named Chancellor by senile
Marshal von Hindenburg, he used the State apparatus to
crush the opposition and obtain a forced
plebiscitary majority approving Hitler's policies.
Concentration camps were built for opponents.
Jews were ordered out of civil life.
A hysterical cult of racism - of blood
and soil, Blut und Boden, was set up.
American diplomacy, following the direction of the
President and Congress, was powerless to intervene in the
disintegration of the League of Nations and all rightist aggressions.
Nor was there in the State Department much inclination
to stop Fascism and Nazism, no more than in Britain and France.
Foreign ministries seemed inert, contemptuous of their
politicians and people, spineless, unconcerned with anti-semitic
persecution, fearful of the Bolshevist menace,
almost admiring of the dictators.
Hitler was a creature of revenge and war.
Mussolini exalted war and claimed he would command
"ten million bayonets," when war came;
so he did - bayonets, good for cutting bread and cheese.
The Japanese military were rampantly violent.
The "Axis" alliance became three-fold.
No Grand Alliance to confront this gruesome trio was attempted.
There was absolutely no chance of enticing the USA
into an alliance pointing at Germany or Italy.
In extremity, it might have, and therefore should have,
joined with Britain and France to aid China and
restrain Japan definitively.
In 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt became President of a
frightfully depressed country. He lent himself to a mild diplomatic
containment of Japan in the Far East. He was alarmed at the
progress of Nazism, but did not commit himself openly as an anti-Nazi
leader until after the 1936 elections, four years later.
He did nothing for the Spanish Loyalists.
American Catholic policy at home and abroad
in this period was strongly anti-communist and opposed to
Popular Front ideas - movements that united all elements
of the Left and Left-Center in France, Spain and other countries,
even in America. Neutrality, rather than
democratic aggressiveness was pursued.
The series of Nazi moves, each shocking in itself,
occasioned few moves toward military preparedness.
The strength of neutralist feeling was evidenced here.
Hitler had shown that one way to get a country out of
depression fast was to draft an army and provide for its armament.
Finally, in 1940, only after the War in Europe had
begun, came the U.S. call-up of militias and the draft.
The armed forces, which should have been strengthened much earlier
did grow rapidly, faster than their equipage.
America's communists, who had been so strongly anti-Nazi,
became neutral with the signing of the Nazi-Soviet
non-aggression pact of 1939, weeks before
Germans invaded Poland; they lost most of their members and
sympathizers in consequence.
The USA declared its neutrality upon the invasion of Poland,
as Britain and France declared war against Germany.
Partisanship for the Allies grew slowly at first,
for the War seemed to be a "phony war," with
little action during the six months that followed
the speedy destruction of Poland.
Hatred for the Soviet Union intensified as the
Baltic democracies and Finland fell before Soviet arms.
Hitler invaded Russia in June of 1941, and,
after terrifying successes, was finally halted,
whereupon, waiving ideological differences,
the U.S. began shipping aid to the Soviet Union.
Most isolationists privately hoped for the Nazis to win before
the U.S. would intervene. Not quite.
Who were the isolationists and interventionists and true neutrals?
The neutrals were the third of the nation who knew
practically nothing and cared less about world affairs.
They would, it should be added, provide about half of the
fighting soldiers of the war and, with their wives, most
of the industrial workers who, for years, worked
overtime and slept in crowded rooms.
They were not necessarily unintelligent:
it was chic among the mass of Americans to
turn their backs upon the world that their ancestors
had left behind.
Isolationists and interventionists were equal in numbers,
with the former excited when threats of intervention occurred
and the latter excited when the Allies seemed about to lose.
Interventionists did not have to claim that they wished
the nation to enter the War; they said they wished the Allies well,
and to lend them aid short of going to war.
This position infuriated, as well it might, the
isolationists, who realized quite well that the
road to war was by way of increasing commitments to aid.
Major criteria for distinguishing the two groups were ethnic and
educational. Churches followed their ethnic flocks, the Catholic
Church, for instance, finding isolationists among Italian and German
and Irish parishioners, and interventionists among the Central
Europeans whose ancestral land was overrun by the Germans. The
intelligentsia were heavily pro-Allied, with majorities on many
campuses. German ethnicity seeped into isolationist opinion generally,
even among the oldest Germanic Americans; much more leakage
occurred with recently arrived Germanics; in 1932 half the population
of Germany was receiving direct aid from Americans of
The ties that bound many Jews to Germanism quite ruptured.
Jews were totally interventionist and well-placed, even then, to
bring pressures on the government and influence public opinion.
Nevertheless they had to step softly, being a small not popular
minority. The holocaust, now known to most Americans and still
believed in 2000 by only 62% of the people to have
occurred in massive form, was then in its incipient
stages, known to few, and scarcely believable.
On August 27, 1943, the American Jewish Conference issued a full
report detailing the murder of approximately 3,123,456 children,
women, and men; the herding into concentration camps of some
3,789,012 more (ultimately almost all killed), the evacuation of at
most 1,801,234 to the interior of the Soviet Union, and the escape
of a mere 180,456 by emigration.
The term "holocaust" was first used in 1944 by a Polish reporter,
describing the scene in the Warsaw ghetto during the final stand of the
Jews there against the German SS troops sent to destroy them. The
State Department had little interest in what was happening to
European Jews; its key officer in charge of the matter, Assistant
Secretary of State Breckinridge Long was generally suspected of
congenital anti-Semitism. Conferences were held in Europe before the
War that hardly helped at all, and many scattered efforts were made -
even by individual heroes such as Swedish Diplomat Count Wallenberg -
during the war, to rescue Jews from their fatal situation.
Despite anti-semitism ordered by late Fascist law,
Italy was practically the only country in Europe
where Jews were not imprisoned and killed;
they were protected almost to the end from Nazi seizures,
both in Italy and in Italian-occupied areas such as the
French Riviera, Croatia, and Greece.
Soviet Nazi sympathizers and anti-Semites
committed a great many murders of Jews, so that the
Soviet record is blemished; indeed, the German Waffen-SS Army
recruited over 900,000 men from enemy and friendly countries to
fight against the Allies - France, Netherlands, Belgium, Lithuania,
Rumania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Ukraine, Caucasus peoples,
Czechoslovakia, Croatia, and Russia. Fighting Bolshevism,
(including Jews) was the recruiting slogan.
How many Germans and others took part in the genocide of Jews
and the millions of other murders that occurred
at the Nazi's behest and under their supervision
has been debated. I calculated at the time 100,000 Germans,
adding to them the same number of non-Germans working in
German-inspired gangs and troops, and a few thousand Jews who
were given a brief reprieve from death to labor in the camps.
Another 100,000 Germans directly backed up operations of the
system of extermination, while knowing about it (railroad
employees, for example). Many more foreigners were similarly
involved. Probably some seven million Germans, about 10% of the
people, civilians and soldiers, were informed of the mass killings
going on, did nothing, and whispered about them.
Murdered or let to die in the course of the warfare
were perhaps fifteen million Russians, Poles, and
other Eastern European civilians. The number of
Germans who took the risk of speaking out on behalf of or
helping persecuted and endangered humans would not exceed
half a million. The numbers were likely much higher in
civilian populations of both West and East.
British-Americans supplied a majority of solid interventionists,
whatever the length of sojourn in America. Celtic Americans were
prone to neutrality or even intervention, especially where of French
origin or intermingled, as in many places, with the Anglo-American
population. Greek-Americans became strongly interventionist upon
Italy's invasion of Greece and the German descent upon Crete and
Thrace. Jewish opinion was entirely pro-Allied and interventionist.
Scandinavian opinion was divided, with the Norwegians, Danes, and
Icelanders strongly interventionist and the Swedes less so. Italian and
Japanese opinion was pro-Axis until Pearl Harbor, Chinese
interventionist. Afro-Americans were pro-Allied but felt little involved.
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor of December 7, 1941 and the
eminently stupid declarations of war on America
by Hitler and Mussolini solved neatly the total problem.
The three actions made instant bellicose patriots of
By November of 1940, six months from the fatal May when the
German blitzkrieg swept aside the Dutch and Belgians, sent a
Franco-British Army fleeing across the Channel, and disposed of the
French Third Republic, the more influential American sectors -
politically, economically, educationally - were heading strongly in
the direction of supporting to the utmost, short of war, the British
effort to hold the Nazis at bay. The consequences to the United
States of the fall of Britain would be grave, nothing else but
permanent cold war against Europe, with hot war
on Europe and America's frontiers - land, sea, and air.
The Republican candidate for President in 1940, Wendell Willkie, an
amateur of politics, a highly successful corporate lawyer, took this
point of view, differing but little with Roosevelt, who had decided to
run for a third term. (Ever since Washington set a precedent of no
more than two terms of office, the idea had turned
into principle and tradition, with reason, for a Republic that could
not afford to change its executive head at least every eight years
should hardly be worthy of respect.)
Willkie benefitted from Roosevelt's attempt to win a third term, but
not enough; he, personally, gave every indication of a candidate
who could manage the affairs of the nation. Still, the charisma, the
habitude, the gratitude, were on the side of Roosevelt.
The tradition against a Third Term was as strong
as any habit and expectation could be. The
USA had until then seemingly solved a most dangerous
problem of representative government:
getting rid of a powerful and popular incumbent
chief of state. It had never been codified.
If not, it was because it was deemed a certainty.
But, in a nation of lawyers and litigators,
no tradition is sacred.
The President made an outrageous pledge,
already contradicted by his conduct since the War began,
that no mother's son would be sent to fight abroad.
Willkie said, me, too.
F.D.R. knew better, and was lying.
(One might search high and low for an American politician
who did not lie to his constituents; you might
begin with John Quincy Adams, to give yourself a chance.)
Roosevelt won. But not by much.
The New Deal -- and the devising of new schemes to
bring America out of the depression into prosperity --
was no longer Roosevelt's principal interest.
He trusted that the New Dealers and the laws themselves
would hold the fort against Southern conservative Democrats and
Northern Republicans. He probably no longer cared much.
Meanwhile he would sally forth to
make the world safe for democracy.
(This was Wilson's slogan, but it had to be the same, for
that is what was, with truth, at issue.)
The next year put the whole world into the balance.
Germany attacked the Soviet Union -
there was no precipitating incident,
no bother about causus belli -
in June 1941, and
Japan attacked the United States in December.
Japan and the U.S. had been in a diplomatic duel for a long time.
Americans wanted the Japanese to cease their physical
expansion and to compete for markets and obtain oil and other
materials so lacking in Japan by being good fellows.
The Japanese saw East and Southeast Asia as
their Monroe Doctrine territory;
their military was increasingly fidgety about
delays in establishing the fact.
There was a "peace party," the Prime Minister,
Konoye, resigning finally to make way for the militarist Tojo,
who immediately set up War against America.
In Washington, Secretary of State Hull had told
Secretary of War Stimson,
it's out of my hands;
it's up to the military now.
Yet diplomats still talked and messaged across the world,
and two innocent Japanese emissaries
(later to be libeled by the American press)
journeyed to Washington with terms of peace.
The mighty Imperial armada descended upon
Hawaii of a Sunday morn, where alerted American commanders
had lined up their war ships and airplanes as neatly as possible
to become enemy targets.
The soldiery was returning soused to barracks or
doing routine detail and lounging about.
A radar operator at an isolated post perceived an alien presence.
He duly reported their blips on the screen.
Headquarters thought that they must be friendly aircraft.
The war was practically won when Roosevelt ran for yet a fourth term.
He was sick. He did have a job to do, the same job as Woodrow
Wilson had taken on: the organization and implementation
of a union of the world's peoples, the United Nations now. He
might have accomplished it. He alone might have achieved it.
No one else on the line could - not Churchill, not Stalin, not De
Gaulle, not Chiang Kai-Shek, certainly not Harry Truman - one may
exclaim "Gandhi, Mohandas Gandhi, the Mahatma!" but
Gandhi had been doing his best to sabotage British rule in India
during the war, while the Japanese were raising an Indian army and
pounding at the border with Burma.
And now one wished that an idealist such as Wallace might have
been kept on as Vice-President by Roosevelt, or that Willkie rather
than Thomas Dewey had opposed Roosevelt in 1944, and had been in
the forefront of the opposition, for Willkie would have seen the
world as a set of problems to be solved all together as a whole,
whereas Dewey was the unimaginative lawyer, the tough prosecutor
from New York. Once again, Roosevelt won, but not by a great
margin. He would serve out a bare three months of his term.
And he had deliberately rejected, as the person
who might succeed himself, an apostle of the New Deal,
The United Nations was an American idea, growing out of the
U.S.-British Atlantic Charter of 14 August 1941,
announced 1 January1942.
Stalin had little interest.
France and China hardly mattered.
Churchill promoted the U.N. for propaganda,
not to free the British Empire to join up.
Still, as with Wilson's League and 14 points, the
U.N. idea gave the world the impression that
a unified and peaceful regime might begin with victory.
One after another, nations signed this bill of good intentions,
the Charter, in 1945. By October 1945 the
five initiating members had ratified the Charter.
The U.S. this time belonged.
At Casablanca in 1943, Allied leaders
declared for "unconditional surrender," perhaps a mistake,
but it was done to reassure the Soviets that
no deal would be made with Hitler (as if Stalin, who
had made his own deal with Hitler, would
believe in any agreement).
What should have been done, before now, was to set up a German
government-in-exile, for there were enough prestigious and
competent exiles to run the show; it would have assumed a general
directive to destroy Nazism; to prepare for a republic; and to accept
on behalf of the German people the necessary surrender, even if
unconditional (there really being no such thing, as subsequent events
proved). There were numerous opportunities to promote and
facilitate defection and desertion. Secretary of State Cordell Hull
was not an imaginative man. Nor was there
the equal of Nazi Josef Goebbels in charge of Allied propaganda.
It could have been presented not as a government so much as an
Administrative Council for the Affairs of the German Democratic
Republic, that is, without full status and not requiring official
recognition. German dissenters, during the War, could find resort
nowhere. The Soviets had an occupational apparatus,
complete with a set of bona fide but communist Germans, ready to
go into Germany with the Red Army. The British operated an
informal "black propaganda" radio station pretending to be the voice
of dissident German officers. Similar governments-in-exile might
have been employed for Austria, Hungary, Slovakia, Croatia and
elsewhere, not excepting Japan in the Pacific theater and the
numerous countries occupied by the Japanese.
Summit conferences at Yalta (the Crimea) before victory in Europe,
and Potsdam (a suburb of Berlin) afterwards, set up both solutions and
problems for the postwar world. At Yalta spheres of influence among
the countries to be liberated were assigned the victors; however, free
elections were promised, so that the peoples would receive their
preferred regimes. Berlin was to be ruled by four powers (France was
being cut into these deals as if she had played a major part in the Axis
defeat) under a city-wide commission. Germany was to be divided into
four segments for purposes of occupation and reconstruction (which
meant in the Soviet case and to a degree in the others, de-construction
and confiscation). The USSR agreed to go to war against Japan a
couple of months after the defeat of Germany.
The United Nations was planned.
At Potsdam, Truman replaced Roosevelt and Clement Atlee took
Churchill's chair as Prime Minister of Britain in the middle of the
conference, in consequence of elections just recently held. Potsdam
was hardly necessary as a summit meeting; subordinates could have
handled it as they did what followed, the governing and
reconstitution of Germany. If Roosevelt had been present, however,
arrangements might have been made with Stalin that
would have prevented some of the worst of the
tragedies that occurred in Eastern Europe afterwards.
President Roosevelt was until his death compos mentis
but suffering a general debilitation, probably from the
slowing up of his cardiac and circulatory system.
He was in comfortable and familiar surroundings in Georgia,
enjoying an April evening with his long-time mistress,
when struck down by a massive cerebral hemorrhage.
He had a great headache, and passed into oblivion.
There is no indication that in his last year any of the decisions that
he made was affected adversely by his condition. As for whether he
was not able to keep busy enough to win the war and carry on the
New Deal - how much of the world's work can a man do? What
had to be done was in competent-enough hands, a large civil service
and an uncorrupted set of ruling appointees, but Congress was
dominated by anti-New Deal and anti-internationalist Southern
Democrats and Republicans.
A sad accident of American history has been the death or
incapacitation of its three greatest Presidents at the moment when
they were poised to fulfill a large and lasting work that they had
prepared and that the world was expecting: Abraham Lincoln, as the
Civil War ended, about to begin national reconstruction; Woodrow
Wilson during the creation of the League of Nations and World
Court; Franklin Delano Roosevelt at the moment for wrapping up
victory and establishing the United Nations.
Extraordinary, too, in these circumstances was the failure of the
American political system to bring forward a new President imbued
with the ideas of the old and capable of carrying them through:
Andrew Johnson, Warren Harding, Harry Truman: none of these
had a true idea of, or even much sympathy for, much less the
capacity to carry out, the plans of his predecessor.
Roosevelt was a supremely confident man, whom a disabling
poliomyelitis in middle age could not dismay, who preferred as
intimates several women of his family milieu rather than cronies
(the more typical American circle),
who was of a liberal disposition but not profound,
who felt largely free of the need to please big
business, a church, the media, or the populace. He was
comfortable with intellectuals, well-educated in the
lackadaisical fashion of Harvard then, and through his wife
was supplied with additional ideational inputs.
He guessed well what was motivating people,
liked them to formulate or argue an issue to the point of decision,
then had no trouble making the decision for them;
this trait could be seen even in his dealings with
Stalin and Churchill, which he controlled, granted
from a position of great national strength.
His conduct as leader has been often analyzed,
without full agreement as to whether he was a reformer,
to take one issue, or,
second, whether he was determined or erratic in taking the country
into a great war.
The common view separates these two questions,
holding that he was really a conservative and dilettante
so far as reform was concerned,
going in heavily for change when opportune to do so.
Then, so far as the War was concerned, he was diabolically
intent upon going to war from the beginning, and
maneuvered the country into it by
forcing the enemy to declare war.
In my view, his behavior in each case corresponds and reflects his
conduct in the other; he is consistent; his actions conform to his
character. Like the sailor he was, he tacked cleverly to the winds, but
was happy in strong winds and sought them.
He felt what people were ready for in 1933 and
pushed to the limits of the political system of the time;
he sensed the future, both near and far,
as the clouds of war gathered, and again he steered the boat.
He helped change the general slant, mood, and promise
of American society on the one hand, and to
propel the United States to its dominant world role.