Mark Collins – World War II and the Super-Secretive FDR: Early 1941 ABC Staff Talks

Further to this post about President Roosevelt’s determination to leave a very thin paper-trail about his decision-making regarding the war,


The Super-Secretive FDR

the following editor’s comment excerpted (pp. 155-156) from
The London Journal of General Raymond E. Lee, 1940-1941 (the US military attaché) is most illuminating.  It is in reference to the very secret military and naval staff conversations on possible wartime cooperation held between the Americans and British from late January until late March 1941 when FDR was still publicly maintaining his 1940 election promise that “I have said this before, but I shall say it again and again and again; your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars.”  The comment:

[There is still an historical question about who on the American side authorized the staff conversations.  President Roosevelt must have known about them (surely they could not have taken place without his express approval!), but he never publicly or privately accepted responsibility for initiating them and when they were finished he refused to acknowledge receipt of the results…The best guess is that Roosevelt…was unwilling to accept responsibility for authorizing such a politically dangerous course…]

Der schlaue Fuchs.  But what a way to run a modern government and what a curse for historians.  In any event The London Journals are well worth the read.  The author had constant access to very high levels of the British military, the government and society; he recounts how with constant difficulties Anglo-American cooperation grew ever closer (cooperation now often considered effectively inevitable).  But it still took Pearl Harbor to get the US into the war.  His account also reminds us of how different–often if not hopeless at least most problematic–matters looked at the time compared to how they eventually turned out.

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

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