Charmed Into Bloodshed
Great Britain learned an important lesson from World War I. American entry into that war in 1917 proved decisive. The American Expeditionary Force helped bring the long military stalemate on the Western Front to an end; and even before America's declaration of war, Britain and her allies would have been in a hopeless position without American loans and sales of arms.
American entry into the war did not come about by accident. Quite the contrary, an extraordinary propaganda campaign by the British moved America from "neutral in thought, word, and deed" to armed intervention. The increasingly tense European diplomatic situation in 1938, culminating in the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, and the British and French declarations of war on Germany on September 3, led the British government to attempt to repeat its World War I strategy.
America had to be brought into the new war, and propaganda was a vital weapon in this task. This British propaganda campaign is described in careful detail by Nicholas John Cull; his book, Selling War: The British Propaganda Campaign Against American "Neutrality" in World War II, based on extensive archival research and personal interviews, is a major contribution.
The British faced a formidable obstacle in their attempt to draw the United States into the war. During the 1920s, most Americans came to believe that United States entry into the First World War had been a disaster. The historical revisionists, such as Sidney Fay and Harry Elmer Barnes, challenged the official accounts of the war by "court historians." Of particular relevance here, detailed studies exposed the British propaganda efforts. Cull emphasizes Walter Millis's 1935 study Road to War in this connection. Millis's "findings sparked a surge of anglophobia and paranoia".
This time, the opponents of war were prepared for the British campaign, making their task all the more difficult. Isolationists, including Senators Nye and Borah and the great aviator Charles Lindbergh, did not hesitate to warn of British wiles.
Here, Cull might have made more use of an important book published in 1937. Cull does mention the work in question.
The American isolationists pressed their attack by once again raising the hue and cry against British propaganda.
Senators William E. Borah and Gerald P. Nye seized on a British study titled Propaganda in the Next War, by British public relations expert Sidney Rogerson, as evidence of 'a basic plan to involve us in the next war'".
Unfortunately, though, Cull does not discuss the book's contents. It suggested that America might be drawn into a future European war by the "back door" of a conflict in the Far East. Surely this was a detail worth mentioning, at least as important as Lord Halifax's distaste for hotdogs.
Before 1940, British propaganda was according to our author not very effective: the British Library of Information in New York, whose activities Cull covers thoroughly, spent much time in futile conflicts of jurisdiction with other agencies. Cull attaches much of the blame for this state of affairs on the government of Neville Chamberlain, of whom he is decidedly no admirer. He holds the conventional view of Chamberlain as an appeaser of Hitler, reluctantly being dragged into war. As such, he and his officials were halfhearted in their propaganda efforts.
Cull, it seems, radically underestimates the aggressiveness of the Chamberlain government. The Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax, was in particular no Milquetoast trembling before the Führer. From October, 1938, he dominated foreign policy decisions and he actively pursued a militant anti-German policy.
Though Cull has no use for Chamberlain, he does celebrate one hero who served this regime: the British Ambassador to Washington, Lord Lothian. He finds that Lothian was an excellent propagandist, especially skilled at cultivating important American politicians.
Lord Lothian was a master of the American scene. Always accessible and disarmingly frank, he charmed the press corps.
Of especial importance as a source on Lothian's activities is the contemporary newsletter of the American isolationist Porter Sargent, later published as the book Getting US Into War. Cull cites this but ought to have made more use of it.
After the German invasion of Norway in May 1940, Chamberlain's government collapsed; and Winston Churchill was appointed Prime Minister. For Cull, this is of decisive significance for British propaganda.
Churchill's accession to power proved to be a watershed event in Anglo-American relations. His coalition Cabinet brought several key figures of the prewar Anglo-American bloc back into power.... Given Churchill's own commitment to the 'English-speaking peoples,' the reshuffle sounded a death knell for the reticence that had marked Chamberlain's dealings with the United States.
Cull covers extensively the principal British officials engaged in war propaganda in the United States; and the reader will make the acquaintance of such figures as Sir John Wheeler- Bennett, an independently wealthy scholar attached to the British Library of Information.
But propaganda was by no means confined to official spokesmen. The British government carefully cultivated such journalists as Edward R. Murrow, whose broadcasts during the Blitz became legendary.
Meanwhile, at the Ministry of Economic Warfare, the press officer David Bowes-Lyon charmed the Americans, which was no easy task considering that he had to explain such matters as the blockade. His popularity owed something to his family connections. King George's wife, Queen Elizabeth, was his sister; and favored correspondents were invited to take tea with her at Buckingham Palace.
Cultivation of the journalistic elite of course did not preclude direct appeal to the American masses, and here Hollywood played a decisive role.
In the late autumn of 1940, the Films Division [of the Ministry of Information] dispatched the distinguished British film executive A.W. Jarratt to develop the necessary links with the studios.
At a dinner with the leading Hollywood producers, Jarratt received pledges of support. The author offers a characteristically detailed account of their efforts to fulfill these pledges.
Cull's book poses a formidable challenge to reviewers. It is a detailed narrative rather than an analytical study, and only a few of the many incidents it discusses can be mentioned here. One incident, though, cannot be omitted, as it brings together several key themes of the book.
On October 27, 1941, during his Navy Day speech, President Franklin Roosevelt made an astonishing claim:
I have in my possession a secret map, made in Germany by Hitler's government, by planners of the new world order. It is a map of South America and part of Central America, as Hitler proposes to organize it.
This map, the President explained, showed South America, as well as "our great life line, the Panama Canal," divided into five vassal states under German domination.
That map, my friends, makes clear the Nazi design not only against South America but against the United States as well.
Roosevelt went on to reveal that he also had in his possession "another document made in Germany by Hitler's government. It is a detailed plan to abolish all existing religions -- Catholic, Protestant, Mohammedan, Hindu, Buddhist, and Jewish alike" which Germany will impose "on a dominated world, if Hitler wins."
The property of all churches will be seized by the Reich and its puppets. The cross and all other symbols of religion are to be forbidden. The clergy are to be liquidated. In the place of the churches of our civilization there is to be set up an international Nazi church, a church which will be served by orators sent out by the Nazi government. And in the place of the Bible, the words of 'Mein Kampf' will be imposed and enforced as Holy Writ. And in the place of the cross of Christ will be put two symbols: the Swastika and the naked sword.
The Nazi plans for eradicating Christianity were never found. And the map? A forgery by British agent Ivar Bryce, who worked under Churchill's man William Stephenson, who had been given his mission: Provoke America to go to war with Germany.
As Nicholas Cull relates in his book:
Whatever the exact origin of the map, the most striking feature of the episode was the complicity of the President of the United States in perpetrating the fraud.
While FDR indeed was a steadfast advocate for a more active US role in the unfolding conflict, he was up against formidable internal resistance to entry into war. It was the British who had more to gain from American involvement, because they had everything to lose. In this phase of the conflict, Britain stood virtually alone, Nazi Germany controlling most of the European continent and kicking Soviet butt in the early months of Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union. The US would only be dragged into the war after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, later that same year, on December 7.
In his address to Congress calling for war, after Pearl Harbor, FDR did not even mention Germany. Yet Hitler stunned the world by declaring war on America. Why? Among the reasons cited by Germany was the provocation of FDR's Navy Day speech and fake map.
Germany is perhaps the only great nation, which has never had a colony either in North or South America, or otherwise displayed there was any political activity, unless mention is made of the emigration of many millions of Germans and of their work, which, however, has only been to the benefit of the American Continent and of the U.S.A
~from Declaration of War on the US by Adolf Hitler December 11, 1941
Clare Booth-Luce shocked many people by saying at the Republican Party Convention in 1944 that Roosevelt “has lied us [the
Stephenson's forgery was a triumph, and although he used fraud and blackmail to goad the U.S. into a war that killed and wounded a million Americans, he is the hero of the best-seller A Man Called Intrepid. And not only has FDR been forgiven, he has been celebrated. His lies, it is said, were noble lies, to rouse an isolationist America into doing its duty and ridding the world of Adolf Hitler.
American popular sentiment in 1940 strongly opposed entry into the European War; and Roosevelt's pledge, "Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars, except in case of attack" helped him win an unprecedented third term.
Regardless of his oft-repeated statement, ‘I hate war,’ he was eager to get into the fighting since that would ensure a third term.
~Jones, Jesse H., with Edward Angly:: Fifty Billion Dollars: My Thirteen Years with the RFC: 1932-1945,
But the combination of the British propaganda machine with an American President set on undermining neutrality proved too difficult for the isolationists to overcome.
While the president repeated he did not want war and had no intent to send an expeditionary force to Europe, the militant secretaries of the Navy and of the War Department, Knox and Stimson, denounced the neutrality legislation in speeches and public declarations and advocated an American intervention in the Atlantic Battle. As members of the cabinet they could not do it without the president’s consent.
~Fehrenbach, T.F.: F.D.R.’s Undeclared War 1939 to 1941
For Britain, desperate times called for desperate measures, one of which would have been the forgery of this map, the point of which was to instill in the Americans the notion that the Nazis, if victorious in Europe, would not leave the American continent alone, thus challenging the Monroe Doctrine. The story behind the map, as produced by the British intelligence services, went like this:
In October 1941, a British agent managed to snatch this map from the bag of a German courier straight after the latter’s involvement in a car crash in Buenos Aires. The map showed how the Nazis intended to reorganise South America into five satellite states, each one a Gau with a German Gauleiter:
• Guyana (encompassing British, Dutch and French Guyana, but wholly under the tutelage of the – collaborating – French government headquartered in Vichy);
• Neuspanien (New Spain, an agglomeration of Venezuela, Colombia, Equador and Panama – meaning the Panama Canal, at that time under US sovereignty, would at least indirectly come under Nazi control);
• Chile (being a fusion of Peru, part of Bolivia and Chile itself, dissected halfway by an Argentinian corridor to the Pacific port of Antofagasta);
• Argentina (Argentina itself, Uruguay and Paraguay, and the aforementioned Antofagasta corridor);
• Brazil (being Brazil, plus part of Bolivia).
Interestingly, the map’s legend stresses: Luftverkehrsnetz der Vereinigten Staaten Süd-Amerikas – Hauptlinien. (‘Air Routes in the United States of South America – Main Lines’), indicating that these states would be joined in a well-connected subcontinent-wide political union (most likely a Nazi-induced shotgun wedding). Such a unified behemoth under German control would inevitably pose a threat to the US.
As it turned out, World War II hardly touched South America. Only after the war did it gain some notoriety as the hideout of many top-level Nazis, including Eichmann (caught by the Israelis in Argentina) and Mengele (died peacefully in Brazil).
Cull's study, though written from what D.C. Watt has called a "triumphalist" perspective on British propaganda, provides a great deal of information to those who seek to avoid future foreign entanglements. Selling War gives ample, if unintended support for the judgment of the great diplomatic historian Charles Callan Tansill in Back Door to War:
The main objective of American foreign policy since 1900 has been the preservation of the British Empire.
And that was also the problem for President Bush. In the 2003 State of the Union, he declared:
The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production.
For those who opposed war with Iraq as necessary, this was riveting. If Saddam was building nuclear weapons, the case for war was far more compelling than if all he had were Scuds, mustard gas and anthrax he could not deliver. Days after the president spoke, Dick Cheney raised anew the awful specter:
We believe he has ... reconstituted nuclear weapons.
Now, with Americans dying daily in our own Gaza Strip in Iraq, we learn that the critical document on which the president relied was also a naked forgery. Someone fabricated the document that supposedly proved Iraq was secretly trying to buy uranium from Niger.
Moreover, the CIA knew the truth, as ex-ambassador Joe Wilson had been sent to Niger to ferret it out. And Wilson had returned to report that the nuclear link to Iraq did not exist.
So, two questions remain. Who forged the Niger document? Who put the lie in the president's State of the Union address?
Fingers are being pointed in all directions. President Bush gave the British government as his source, leading one to suspect the heirs of Bryce and Stephenson. The Brits point to the CIA. The Washington Post said that a foreign intelligence agency was the source. CNN cited officials who said it was not the Brits or Mossad. Lately, Italy has popped up as a possible source – and the Iraqi National Congress of Ahmed Chalabi.
Whoever did it, the forgery – so crude it suggests the author knew his recipient wanted it so badly he would not bother to verify it – was a war crime, a deliberate provocation of the United States to instigate a war on a country that did not threaten America.
"An enemy has done this to us," the Bible reads. Congress should find out who that enemy is. With American kids dying in a new war in Iraq that has no end in sight, we have a right to know who deceived the president – who lied us into war.
Franklin Roosevelt often lied to further his goals. In a radio address broadcast to the nation on October 23. 1940, for example, he gave "this most solemn assurance" that he had not given any "secret understanding in any shape or form, direct or indirect, with any government or any other nation in any part of the world, to involve this nation in any war or for any other purpose." But American, British and Polish documents (mostly released many years later) proved that this "most solemn assurance" was a bald-faced lie. Roosevelt had, in fact, made numerous secret arrangements to involve the U.S. in war.
On 11 March 1941 Roosevelt signed the Lend-Lease bill into law, permitting increased deliveries of military aid to Britain in violation of U.S. neutrality and international law.
In April Roosevelt illegally sent U.S. troops to occupy Greenland. On 27 May he proclaimed a state of "unlimited national emergency," a kind of presidential declaration of war that circumvented a power constitutionally reserved to Congress. Following the Axis attack against the USSR in June, the Roosevelt administration began delivering enormous quantities of military aid to the beleagured Soviets. These shipments also blatantly violated international law. In July Roosevelt illegally sent American troops to occupy Iceland.
On 11 March 1941 Roosevelt signed the Lend-Lease bill into law, permitting increased deliveries of military aid to Britain in violation of U.S. neutrality and international law. In April Roosevelt illegally sent U.S. troops to occupy Greenland. On 27 May he proclaimed a state of "unlimited national emergency," a kind of presidential declaration of war that circumvented a power constitutionally reserved to Congress.
The President began his 1941 Navy Day address broadcast over nationwide radio on 27 October.by recalling that German submarines had torpedoed the U.S. destroyer Greer on 4 September 1941 and the U.S. destroyer Kearny on 17 October. In highly emotional language, he characterized these incidents as unprovoked acts of aggression directed against all Americans. He declared that although he had wanted to avoid conflict, shooting had begun and "history has recorded who fired the first shot."
The German government immediately responded to Roosevelt's speech by denouncing his "documents" as preposterous frauds. The Italian government declared that if Roosevelt did not publish his map "within 24 hours, he will acquire a sky high reputation as a forger." At a press conference the next day, a reporter rather naturally asked the President for a copy of the "secret map." But Roosevelt refused, insisting only that it came from "a source which is undoubtedly reliable."
In a memoir published in late 1984, war-time British agent Ivar Bryce claimed credit for thinking up the "secret map" scheme. Of course, the other "document" cited by Roosevelt, purporting to outline German plans to abolish the world's religions, was just as fraudulent as the "secret map."
Some U.S. officials were concerned about British wartime efforts to deceive the American government and people. In a September 5, 1941 memorandum forwarded to Secretary of State Cordell Hull, Assistant Secretary of State Adolf Berle warned that British intelligence agents were manufacturing phony documents detailing supposed German conspiracies. Americans should be "on our guard" against these British-invented "false scares," Berle concluded.
During a conversation on 14 May 1942 with his close Jewish adviser, Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, Jr., the President candidly remarked:
Bratzel, John F., and Leslie B. Rout, Jr., "FDR and The 'Secret Map'," The Wilson Quarterly (Washington, DC), New Year's 1985, pp. 167-173.
"Ex-British Agent Says FDR's Nazi Map Faked," Foreign Intelligence Literary Scene (Frederick, MD: University Publications of America), December 1984, pp. 1-3.
"President Roosevelt's Navy Day Address on World Affairs," The New York Times, 28 October 1941.
Newsweek September 8, 2008
The American ruling class, such as it is, has long imitated the British ruling class. Old-time WASPs were notorious Anglophiles, and their fascination extended to espionage. At the beginning of World War II, the British intelligence service helped persuade President Franklin D. Roosevelt to set up a wartime spy agency, the Office of Strategic Services. The OSS, sometimes known as "Oh So Social" because its officers included so many society types, served as "the willing handmaiden of the British," writes Jennet Conant in her lively new history, The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington. If the British spies in Washington—who included dashing authors Ian Fleming and Dahl—did not quite drag America into World War II [it took Pearl Harbor and Hitler's declaration of war on the United States to achieve that], they effectively wooed and spied upon the press and political establishment.
Britain badly needed to work its collective charm on America's opinion makers. Winston Churchill knew that U.S. intervention was essential to defeating Nazi Germany, but many Americans wanted no part of the war. So Churchill sent spies to discredit the isolationists and stir sympathy for joining the fight. The clandestine operation, known as the Rumor Factory, pulled some outrageous stunts, but the biggest coup came in March 1941. Roosevelt went on the radio to announce:
I have in my possession a secret map made in Germany by Hitler's government … of South America and part of Central America as Hitler proposes to reorganize it."
That map, my friends, makes clear the Nazi design not only against South America but the United States as well.
The map was a British forgery.
The British spies were a romantic bunch who included the playwright Noel Coward and Fleming, the British naval intelligence officer who later created the James Bond novels. They referred to themselves as the Baker Street Irregulars, after the Sherlock Holmes stories, and the most irregular may have been Dahl, an RAF pilot and assistant air attaché in the British Embassy, who went on to write very clever, macabre short stories and hugely popular children's books [Charlie and the Chocolate Factory].
Ideally, spies blend into a crowd, but Dahl was a 6-foot-6 Viking, handsome and outspoken to the point of rudeness.
With his reckless sense of humor and general air of insubordination, Dahl may have been mentioned to someone on high as having the makings of an ideal informant, if for no other reason than no one so badly behaved would ever be suspected of working for British intelligence.
Dahl initially wanted to stay in the United States to pursue his literary career, but he found he could play a role for British intelligence by putting on his RAF uniform and going to Washington parties.
"All Dahl had to do was keep up a cheerful front and eavesdrop his way through the yawning Sunday breakfasts, hunt breakfasts, luncheons, teas, tea dances, innumerable drinks parties, banquets, and not infrequent balls," writes Conant.
Dahl was a gambler— he lost $900 [his first literary paycheck] playing poker with Harry Truman—and swordsman extraordinaire. "Girls just fell at Roald's feet," according to Antoinette Marsh, daughter of a Texas newspaper publisher.
I think he slept with everybody on the East and West Coasts who had more than $50,000 a year.
One was Clare Boothe Luce, congresswoman, playwright and wife of Time Inc. publishing czar Henry Luce. Dahl was assigned to gather pillow talk from Mrs. Luce, who was regarded as anti-British. It was hard duty. "I am all f–––ed out," Dahl complained to the ambassador, Lord Halifax, after a three-night stand. "You know it's a great assignment but I just can't go on." Halifax reminded him of a scene from a movie about Henry VIII, in which Henry goes into the bedroom with Anne of Cleves: "The things I've done for England." According to Conant, Halifax told Dahl, "Well, that's what you've got to do."
Dahl's most important conquest was Eleanor Roosevelt, whom he won not with sex but with his literary imagination. The First Lady had read a Dahl story to her grandchildren and asked him to dinner at the White House. Dahl was duly charming and soon found himself invited to Hyde Park for the Fourth of July, 1943. FDR, though, was not fooled. Dahl found the president mixing martinis.
Glancing up, Roosevelt announced:
I've just had a very interesting cable from Winston.
It was Roosevelt's way of letting Dahl know that he was aware that he was reporting back to British intelligence.
Conant might have followed up on Fleming, a close friend of Dahl's. In 1960, Fleming was invited to a Washington dinner party attended by the presidential candidate John F. Kennedy [a big fan of the Bond novels] and a high official at the CIA. Fleming held forth on all the ways that U.S. intelligence could undermine Fidel Castro. The next morning, the hostess of the party received a call from Allen Dulles, director of the CIA, looking for Fleming. It may be a coincidence, but shortly thereafter the CIA began working on a plot to make Castro's beard fall out. Sounds like the sort of story only Roald Dahl would dream up.
One of the cynical methods Churchill used in an attempt to drag the United States closer and closer to the brink of war occurred, when he said to Ambassador Kennedy in June or July, 1940:
But he knew from the code breaking; and he knew from reading the German Air Force signals which had been broken on May 26, 1940, that Hitler had given orders that no British town was to be bombed on any account .
Although the Head of Bomber Command, the Chief of Staff of the British Air Force, warned him that if Berlin was bombed, Hitler might very well lift the embargo on bombing British towns, Churchill just twinkled. This was what he wanted, of course. At that morning he telephoned Bomber Command personally to order the bombing of