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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Still More Profiles In Asshattery

        "Other Americans held firmly to an opposite view.  Admiral William Standley, who had been Chief of Naval Operations during Roosevelt's first term, put his name to a manifesto recognizing 'the fact and the logic of the situation by declaring that a state of war exists between this country and Germany.'  Groups that supported Churchill were attacked by isolationist leaders with large followings.  Father {Charles} Coughlin said:  'Sneakingly, subversively and un-Americanly hiding behind sanctimonious stuffed shirts, these men form the most dangerous fifth column. . . . They are the Judas Iscariots within the Apostolic college of our nation.'  Coughlin had sometimes used Joseph P. Kennedy as a channel to the President before Kennedy went to London as an ambassador.  Now Coughlin had drifted into fascism, enthusiasm for the corporate state, and a noisy anti-Semitism that so worried some influential American Jewish leaders that they feared to voice pro-British sentiments.  In contrast, it was the son of a prominent Jewish banker banker who did more than almost any single man to further Stephenson's campaign for help, especially for the fifty destroyers.  He was Henry Morgenthau, Jr., who joined the War-Wagers with gusto.
        Morgenthau, a long-time neighbor of Roosevelt, had been unswervingly loyal to him since the outbreak of World War I.  He worked in the state administration when Roosevelt became governor of New York, then followed his friend to the White House.  As Secretary of the Treasury, he was the best ally Stephenson could have found, for he wielded direct power as an official and greater indirect influence as a trusted counselor to the President.  He did his best to make sure that the Stephenson-Roosevelt relationship was never exposed, directing formal arrangements through the proper diplomatic channels or by way of a British Purchasing Mission run by another Canadian within the growing complex of Stephenson's organization in New York.
       'After the Purchasing Mission opened shop at 15 Broad Street,' Morgenthau said later, 'swarms of salesmen from the garment district flocked to it, offering samples of women's underwear.  It did no harm and reinforced the impression of open buying.'  The head of the mission was Arthur Purvis, ' the leading Canadian industrialist, a man of the highest integrity, with no enemies and indeed no critics,'  in the words of John Buchan, then Governor-General of Canada.  Purvis was to provide the surface gloss on Stephenson's economic endeavors until he was killed the following year in an air crash on the transatlantic run, which had become the unpublicized means of shuttling important cargoes quickly between the secret allies.
       Morgenthau discussed with Stephenson the dire implications of the delay in getting help to Finland during the Russian invasion.  The President had described the Soviet attack as 'this dreadful rape,' and it was estimated that ninety-eight percent of the American people shared his outrage.  But the legality of transferring or selling surplus arms to the Finns had been argued between the State, War, Navy, and Treasury departments until the day the Russians finally broke the Mannerheim Line, when the Senate finally passed a totally useless bill for nonmilitary financial help.
       Direct sales to Britain were regarded as illegal although Stephenson's American friends unearthed old bits of legislation to show how to circumvent the Neutrality Law, originally passed in 1936 to prevent the United States getting into war as it had in 1917.  'It was purely retroactive,' commented Stephenson, 'but it effectively tied Roosevelt's hands.'  On the morning that the evacuation of Dunkirk was finished, Edward Stettinius had resigned as chairman of United States Steel to begin work on a plan to get the most urgently required arms to Britain.  He was an old and trusted friend of Stephenson.  Though he might be faulted for his impetuous declarations in public, he had a flair for dramatic action and anticipated Churchill's so-called beer-bottle speech.  The new Prime Minister, promising to fight the German invaders with everything to hand, added in an aside what sounded like 'with bloody beer bottles if necessary.'  Stettinius wrote later:  'As the Prime Minister spoke, stack after stack of guns for the defenders of Britain were being moved from America's arsenals. . . . Word had been flashed all along the line to give them right of way.'  The legality that cleared the line was Attorney General Robert Jackson's opinion that arms owned by the U.S. government could be sold without advertisement by the Secretary of War under a 1919 statute still in force.

       There would always be political dangers inherent in this co-operation.  Secret knowledge could be used to get rid of awkward opponents.  There was a strong temptation to do this in the case of Ambassador Kennedy.
       'My God!'  Churchill roared after one of Kennedy's teetotal sermons.  'You make me feel I should go around in sack-cloth and ashes!'  Kennedy, for his part, told the President that Churchill 'is loaded with brandy from ten in the morning.'  Kennedy had been described by the British Foreign Office as a possible future president, and already he threatened to throw his weight into the scales against Roosevelt.  If someone else moved into the White House after the elections in November, what would happen to the Wizard's scientific secrets and all the carefully nurtured apparatus labeled INTREPID in New York?
       Lord Beaverbrook, responsible for the herculean effort of aircraft production that put Spitfires into RAF hands only just in time, kept up a relationship with Kennedy while reporting to Stephenson on the diplomat's activities.  Beaverbrook made no apology for his actions later.  'My son was shooting down Germans in the air,'  he said.  'I was obliged to be ruthless on the ground.'  He had made up his mind to 'shoot down Kennedy' after Donovan's midsummer visit, which ended with the Beaver cabling Big Bill on his arrival in Washington:  YOU ARE LIKE UNTO RIVERS OF WATER IN A DRY PLACE.
       Although Beaverbrook and Stephenson had a lot in common--they were both Canadians raised in a strict Scottish Presbyterian code, self-made millionaires, and strong-willed-- the press baron was not noted for reticence.  Beaverbrook described Ambassador Kennedy's final weeks to Stephenson in these words: " 'We loyally hushed up the betrayal of U.S. Embassy communications.  But Kennedy was soon back at it.  He wanted an unconditional guarantee that we send the whole British fleet to American ports in the likely event of our surrender.  To the very last, he was worried about money.  The British should be made to pay cash for arms.  British-owned securities in the United States should be taken over and sold to raise the money.  He feared Roosevelt was holding private conversations with you, so nothing would get on record about the President's blank-check arrangements for unsecured British credit.  When Churchill said we shall defend our island whatever the cost may be,  Kennedy warned Washington:  'Remember all speeches are being made in beautiful sunshiny weather.'  Even Russian Ambassador Ivan Maisky was astonished at Kennedy's state of panic, and is commenting acidly upon 'Capitalist Kennedy seeking personal concessions on imports of Haig and Haig whisky and Gordon's Gin, for which he holds exclusive distribution rights in the United States, in exchange for his help in obtaining American supplies, a crude form of blackmail.'  The London Spectator thinks there seem to be plenty of eminent persons in the United States to give isolationist advice without the Ambassador, knowing our ordeal, joining their number."
       Beaverbrook said bluntly that Kennedy's presence threatened the strategy settled upon to carry Britain through the period when 'we shall be losing the war in a conventional sense until mid-1941.  Hitler has put off the invasion until Spring 1941 and that gives us six months to launch psychological counteroffensives-- small secret warfare campaigns designed to play on what we know of the Fuhrer's temperament.
       'Hitler cannot stand opposition.  Our hopes rest upon inciting him to lunatic actions.  He must see the insults offered his supermen by barefoot peasants.  It will be good for our morale too, knowing we are defeated but still striking back.  These plans depend on keeping the right man in the White House.  Kennedy claims he can put 25 million Catholic votes behind Wendell Wilkie to throw Roosevelt out.'
       Foreign Minister Lord Halifax, now committed to the total-war concept, reported Kennedy as having said he had arranged widespread publication of an article by himself in the United States five days before the presidential election:  'Kennedy gave me to understand it would be an indictment of President Roosevelt's administration. . . .'
       Beaverbrook sent Stephenson a detailed report of the Ambassador's conversations in which compromising statements were made.  The report was submitted to FDR at once.  Stephenson described the scene:  'I sat back and watched FDR across his cluttered desk.  He had a way of reading, tilting the sheet from side to side.  You could tell when he was angry by small signs.  On this occasion the sign was the sudden acceleration in the tilting of the sheet.  Then he folded the sheet very calmly, very slowly, and he tore it just as slowly and calmly into very tiny pieces which he dropped into a wastebasket.  And then, in front of me, he drafted a cable to Kennedy which said in essence:  THE LIQUOR TRADE IN BOSTON IS NOW CHALLENGING AND THE GIRLS OF HOLLYWOOD MORE FASCINATING STOP I EXPECT YOU BACK HERE BY SATURDAY.
       Lyndon B. Johnson later said he was with the President when Kennedy arrived in New York and telephoned on Sunday, October 27.  'Ah, Joe, old friend, it is so good to hear your voice. . . .'  When Roosevelt replaced the telephone, he drew his forefinger razor-fashion across his throat, Johnson later recalled.
       The Kennedys dined with the Roosevelts that evening.  Two days later, Joseph P. Kennedy spoke on nationwide radio.  A startled public learned he now believed 'Franklin D. Roosevelt should be re-elected President.'  He told a press conference:  'I never made anti-British statements or said, on or off the record, that I do not expect Britain to win the war.'  British historian Nicholas Bethell wrote:  'How Roosevelt contrived the transformation is a mystery.'  And so it remained until the BSC {British Security Coordination} Papers disclosed that the President had been supplied with enough evidence of Kennedy's disloyalty that the Ambassador, when showed it, saw discretion to be the better part of valor.
       'If Kennedy had been recalled sooner,' said Stephenson later, 'he would have campaigned against FDR with a fair chance of winning.  We delayed him in London as best we could until he could do the least harm back in the States.'
       Kennedy's London was being torn apart by a new campaign of terror bombing.  Just when the German Air Force seemed likely to swamp RAF Fighter Command, the attacks were switched from vital bases to England's open cities.  Hitler stopped bombing fighter airfields and bombed London instead.  It was a turning point in the Battle of Britain;  and a decisive factor in making Kennedy get out of the smoking capital despite the efforts of society and the bureaucracy to detain him. 
       The Chief Diplomatic Advisor to Churchill, doubtless under stress from the nightly bombing, indulged in an undiplomatic comment that went into the sealed Kennediana file.  Robert Vansittart wrote:'Mr. Kennedy is a very foul specimen of a double-crosser and defeatist.  He thinks of nothing but his own pocket.  I hope that this war will at least see the elimination of his type.'  It may seem unfair to exhume this bitter note, years later, but it does give deeper meaning to the generous amends made after the war by President John F. Kennedy when he proclaimed Churchill an honorary citizen of the United States for his leadership 'in the dark days and darker nights when Britain stood alone--and most men save Englishmen despaired of England's life.'"  A Man Called Intrepid by William Stevenson pgs. 144-46 and 159-63.

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