Many Americans ready for war

Harry Hopkins on his way to visit Britain, January 1941, where he became even more convinced of the need for support for Britain. He was highly influential in developing the Lend Lease policy which enabled Britain to keep fighting.

Harry Hopkins, Roosevelt’s closest personal aide, was in Britain to discover the war situation and report back. A late night conversation with Winston Churchill ranged far and wide around the international situation but also covered the domestic outlook of the United States. The whole candid discussion was recorded in the private diaries of John Colville, Private Secretary to Churchill:

As far as the present was concerned, there were four divisions of public opinion in America: a small group of Nazis and Communists, sheltering behind Lindbergh, who declared for a negotiated peace and wanted a German victory; a group, represented by Joe Kennedy, which said “Help Britain, but make damn sure you don’t get into any danger of war”; a majority group which supported the President’s determination to send the maximum assistance at whatever risk; and about ten per cent or fifteen per cent of the country, including [Frank] Knox [Secretary of the Navy] and [Henry L.] Stimson [Secretary of the Army] and most of the armed forces, who were in favour of immediate war.

The important element in the situation was the boldness of the President, who would lead opinion and not follow it, who was convinced that if England lost, America, too, would be encircled and beaten. He would use his powers if necessary; he would not scruple to interpret existing laws for the furtherance of his aim; he would make people gape with surprise, as the British Foreign Office must have gaped when it saw the terms of the Lease and Lend Bill.

The boldness of the President was a striking factor in the situation. He did not want war, indeed he looked upon America as an arsenal which should provide the weapons for the conflict and not count the cost; but he would not shrink from war.

See John Colville: The Fringes of Power: Downing Street Diaries 1939-1955

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