American World War II Intervenionism


Figure 1.--.

The American public generally saw Hitler and the NAZIs as despicable. Despite this the vast majority of Americans were determined to stay out of what they saw as another European War. There were, however, also interventionists who saw clearly the developing danger and argued for American involvement, goung far further than the President was willing to go. As the power iof NAZI Germany grew, so did interventionist sentiment. A major turning point was the fall of France (June 1940). The French Army had been the Allied bulwark in World War I. Many saw at this time a mortal danger if America did not get involved and at a mere mininum support Britain. There was a major difference between intervenionists and isolationists. Many od the major isolationists came from the Congress. Isolationism was popular with the voters and thus it was a useful campaign issue. Interventionist ideas publically expressed was a could way to get defeated. Supporting a popular president was possible, but loudly promoting intervention was not politically possible until Pearl Harbor (December 1941). The same was true of Administration officials. Even the President had to tread very carefully. The interventions were largely figures from bussiness, the media, and academia. Several ethnic groups were pro-intervenionist, esopecially Jewush groups. And the list grew as Hitle invaded on European country after another. They were, however, not as important as the ethnic groups that tended to opose intervention (German, Irish, and Italian). There were in addition to the interventionists outside of government, several figures the President turned to promote his policies. They worked outsude of Stste Depsrtmnt channels. The President was contrained by the State Department which he could not fully rely on because he was prepared to go futher than he was willing to admit publically. And isolationist newpapers like the Chicago Tribune was constantly on the hunt for evuidence of the President's intervenionist commitment. One major problem with the State Department was his amassador in Britain, Joseph P. Kennedy. Kennedy was an isolationists, but who hesitated as a Democrat to openly challenge the President. A leak even developed at the Embassy, a clerk opposed to the President's policies. Thus the President turned to several private emasaries.

Interventionist Sentiment

The American public gebnerally saw Hitler and the NAZIs as despicable. Despite this the vast majority of Americans were determined to stay out of what they saw as another European War. There were, however, also interventionists who saw clearly the developing danger and argued for American involvement, goung far further than the President was willing to go. As the power iof NAZI Germany grew, so did interventionist sentiment. A major turning point was the fall of France (June 1940). The French Army had been the Allied bulwark in World War I. Many saw at this time a mortal danger if America did not get involved and at a mere mininum support Britain.

Individual Intrevenionists

There was a major difference between intervenionists and isolationists. Many od the major isolationists came from the Congress. Isolationism was popular with the voters and thus it was a useful campaign issue. Interventionist ideas publically expressed was a could way to get defeated. Supporting a popular president was possible, but loudly promoting intervention was not politically possible until Pearl Harbor (December 1941). A rare exception was Senator Claude Pepper from Florida who became the leading proponent of intervention in the Senate. The interventions were largely figures from bussiness, the media, and academia. A lot of newspaper owners were critical of Presidebnt Roosevelt while theur reoirters were often pro-Roosevelt. One important press magnate was Hebnry Luce, owner of both Time and Life. He wa critical of Presudent Roosevelt, but supported Chaing Kai-Sheck in his resistabnce against Japanese aggression. Church groups were divuided. Prominent intrerventionist, Archibald MacLeish, asked, "How could we sit back as spectators of a war against ourselves?" Walter Winchell was a syndicated columnist with a important readership had strong interventionist views. The same wasc true for Walter Lippman. Radio journalists, like Willianm Shrier and Edward Murrow, who observed the NHAZIs in Europe were also strongly interventions although as journalists they did not overtly advocate intervention.

Introventionist Groups

Like the Isolationists, the inttervenionist organized groups to promote their concerns. One of the most important was the Century Club. Several ethnic groups were pro-intervenionist, esopecially Jewush groups. And the list grew as Hitle invaded on European country after another. They were, however, not as important as the ethnic groups that tended to opose intervention (German, Irish, and Italian).

Administration Figures

Administratiion fifures also had to be Careful about their public statenments. P. The same was true of Administration officials. Even the President had to tread very carefully. The American people throghout the 1930s were strongly isolationist. The NAZI Anschsluss, absorption of Austria, in 1938 brought a strong rebuke and prophetic warning from Secretary of State Cordell Hull. Hull warned that isolationism was a "bitter illussion". He stated, "It is my firm conviction that national isolationism is not a means of security, but rather a fruitful source of insecurity. For, while we may seek to withdraw from participation in world affairs, we cannot thereby withdraw from the world itself. Attemps to achieve national isolation would not meerly deprice us of any influence in the councils of nations, but would impair our ability to control our own affairs." (June 3, 1940?)

British Intelligence: British Security Coordination

The story of how America developed a secret operations service is nothing short of shocking. Amazingly it began with the British who set up a covert operation to sway American public opinion and disrupt Axis operations in the the United States. It was arguably the most succeessful covert operation of the War. British Intelligence (MI6) ran the operation from their Passport Control Office in New York City. This innocuous sounding office was a cover the British used for the operations of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) around the world. This office was greatly expanded when a Canadian, William Stephenson, was personally placed in charge (June 1940). Stephenson had been a pilot in World War I and after being captured by the Germans escaped from a POW camp. He was a talented boxer and struck up a frienship with Gene Tunney during the inter-War era. He dabeled in radio, designing radio set just as radio was making it big and made a personal fortune. He also got involved in steel and made another fortune. As a business man he traveled in Germany and reported back to the SIS (MI6). This is how he got the New York assignment. He named his group British Security Coordination, only because he needed an officia and inocuous name when he registered with the FBI. His orders were to carry out "all that was not being done and could not be done by overt means to ensure sufficient aid for Britain and eventually bring America into the war." Tunney introduced Stephenson to Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bureau Director J. Edgar Hoover. He told Hoover that he wanted to work with the FBI. Hoover replied that the President would need to approve this. President Roosevelt did not hesitate. This eventually led to full scale Anglo-American intelligence cooperation, although Stephenson did not brief American officials on much of what he was doing. although President Roosevelt began receiving Ultra information through the FBI. The FBI for the most part conveniently ignored BSC operations, but was involved in other activities. The complete story on the extent of their cooperation has never been told, until Stephenson published his book--A Man Called Intrepid in 1976. Stephenson found larger accomodations in Rockefeller Center. The BSC operations were widespread, they planted pro-British stories in the press. They circulated false stories about German activities, especially Fifth Collumn activities. President Roosevelt used some of their misinformation (which he apparently took for fact) in one of his most famous speeches. They disrupted Axis activities in Britain, spreading information about German businessmen and interceoting mail from the French Vichy embassy. Important journalists like Walter Lippman and Walter Winchell carried stories planted by BSC. While many of these stories contained various degrees of misinformation, we now know of course that they did not begin to describe the horrors actually being perpetrated by Hitler's minions. The BSC also worked against the election of isolationist Congressmen, spreading reports that contained a range of falsehoods. The BSC was active in the draft Windel Wilkie campaign. Much of its work was carried out through friendly newspapers such as the New York Herald Tribune and New York Post, but it assiduosly cultivated press contacts. They even acquired a radio station--WRUL. The BSC wasnot limited to propagand and political maschinations. One of Stephenson's assignments was to help the United Stateset up a secret intelligence service, something it did not have as the country moved slowly but inevitably toward war.

Presidential Envoys

There were in addition to the interventionists outside of government, several figures the President turned to promote his policies. They worked outside of official State Department channels. [Fullilove] Five figures were of sopecial importance. He sent diplomat Sumner Wells to Europe who visited major countries during the Phoney War (Spring 1940). After the fall of France, he sent William 'Wildbill' Donovan to England, obstensibly to determine if the British could hold out (summer 1940). Donovan was to be the Ameican spy master and he conferred with Bruitish intelligence. After the election, he sent Harry Hopkins to Britain to assure the British that America was wtih them and to see just what Britain needed (November 1940). The dangerv of invasion had past, but the Blitz was stilln underway. Churchill didn't know what to make iof him at first, but knew he was close to the President. He made itv ckear that Britain was into the War and able to fightb ioff any German attack, accomopanying Hopkins to defense instaklatuins allmover the country. After the NAZI invasion of the Sovuiet Union, Hopkins also went to Moscow and carried a letter to Stalin (August 1941). His political opponent, Wendel Wilkie, in the 1940 Presidential election, made a well-publicized trip to London. He was subsequently instrumental in getting Lend Lease through Congress. Railroad heir Averell Harriman was putin charge of delivering Lend Lease aid.

State Department

The President was contrained by the State Department which he could not fully rely on because he was prepared to go futher than he was willing to admit publically. And isolationist newpapers like the Chicago Tribune was constantly on the hunt for evuidence of the President's intervenionist commitment. One major problem with the State Department was his anmassador in Britain, Joseph P. Kennedy. Kennedy was an isolationists, but who hesitated as a Democrat to openly challenge the President. A leak even developed at the Embassy, a clerk opposed to the President's policies. Thus the President turned to several private emasaries.

Sources

Fullilove, Michael. Rendezvous with Destiny: How Franklin D. Roosevelt and Five Extrodinary Men Took America into the War and Into the World (2013), 480p.

Stephenson, William. A Man Called Intrepid (1976).






CIH -- WW II







Navigate the CIH World War II Section:
[Return to the Main Isolationist America page]
[Return to the Main isolationist sentiment page]
[Return to the Main World War II American isolation and FDR page]
[Return to the Main World War II page]
[Biographies] [Campaigns] [Children] [Countries] [Deciding factors] [Diplomacy] [Geo-political crisis] [Economics] [Home front] [Intelligence]
[POWs] [Resistance] [Race] [Refugees] [Technology]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Return to Main World War II page]
[Return to Main war essay page]





Created: 1:57 AM 6/27/2013
Last updated: 1:57 AM 6/27/2013