No. 353 NAI DFA Washington Embassy 1940 Reports

Confidential report from Robert Brennan to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)
(108/107/40) (Copy)

Washington, 28 November 1940

For the first time last week some of the advocates of aid to Britain came out openly for war, the most notably being Prof. William M. Agar of Columbia University. The William Allen White Committee to defend America by aiding the Allies stated 'we may have to change the Neutrality Act to allow these products (planes and guns) to go to Britain in American ships. We may have to become a non-belligerent instead of a neutral ... it can be argued that we should go into this war at once'. The Gallup Poll, however reported that on the question whether the U.S. should give all aid to Britain, even if it involved America in war, the percentage had dropped from 52 in September to 50 today.

Lord Lothian on returning from England last Saturday told reporters that Britain wanted ships, planes and munitions, and that she would soon need financial aid. On Monday he had a long interview with President Roosevelt, but said he had not discussed finances. Between the two events there had been an immediate adverse reaction on this question. Senator Johnson promised 'one hell of a battle' if any attempt was made to repeal the Johnson Act. The AP issued a report that members of the Administration unnamed thought the appeal for financial aid was premature, and quoted figures showing that Britain still held assets totalling nine billion dollars in the United States, Canada, and South America. Senator Nye tabled a notice to move for an investigation of British assets in the United States. When the Foreign Relations Committee of the Senate met, however, it decided to postpone all consideration of this matter until the new Congress convenes on Jan. 3rd.

President Roosevelt at his press conference Saturday, the 23rd, surprised reporters by sternly stating that Britain was getting all the aid America could give at present, and that the amount of munitions and planes could not be doubled over-night by merely giving orders.

There are signs that the President is facing a tough session. Though he affected to be unconcerned, there is no doubt he was disappointed when the house last week decided against adjournment, the vote being carried by 191 to 148, the majority consisting of a combination of Republicans and bolting Democrats. Similarly this week the Senate passed the Walter Logan Bill in the face of a threat by Majority Leader Barkley that the President would veto it. The Bill seeks to curb by allowing appeals to the courts the activities of such federal agencies as the National Labor Relations Board. Both of these actions are taken as reverses for the Administration and an indication that they will have to go slow particularly in the matter of new foreign commitments.

It may be the case that Ambassador Kennedy's1 disclosures are having an effect. He appears to be talking quite freely along the lines of the interview reported in the Boston Globe, and afterwards repudiated by him. For instance this week the Washington Merry-Go-Round reports him as telling a group in Hollywood that England though fighting heroically was virtually defeated, and that the U.S. should limit its aid to what was necessary to gain time to rearm. Alf. Landon, the defeated Republican Presidential candidate in 1936 joined those who maintain aid to Britain should be limited because of the fear of involvement in war. He strongly opposed any easing of the Neutrality Act.

Whatever the reason for the change, there is one, though it is slight at present. The isolationists in the House and Senate are talking more freely than they have been in months, and the columnists and news commentators are becoming more outspoken on the matter of Britain's slender chances. The Gallup Poll, however, shows that those who believe England will win jumped from 32% in June to 63% today.

The NY Times Washington correspondent, Frank R. Kelley, stated on Tuesday that Lord Lothian brought back a memorandum to the effect that Britain wanted immediately from the U.S. 100 destroyers, 3 battleships and 6 cruisers. Lord Lothian promptly and emphatically denied this.

Despatches from London in the past few days painted a gloomy picture. Drew Middleton, the well-known correspondent of AP, writing from London described the present as the darkest hour of the war for Great Britain. He ridiculed the statements that the night bombers are not damaging production plants, dwelt on the seriousness of the shipping losses, and said that Britain was nearing the end of its financial tether. This despatch which, of course, passed the censor, said that the censor was behaving as did the French censor before the collapse of France.

Another gloomy despatch which appeared at the same time was a report of the broadcast by Mr. Ronald H. Cross, the British Minister for Shipping. He said that the resources of the Empire were not sufficient to make good the losses of ships at sea. William H. Stoneman, Chief of the London Bureau of the Chicago Daily News, back from England told a New York audience that Britain could not win unless America went to war and put war industries here on a twenty-four hour basis.

Albert Warner, the Washington news commentator for the Columbia Broadcasting Company, said over the radio that some leaders in Washington believed that London reports were allowed out so as to impress America with Britain's dire needs. If that is so, it shows a very bad sense of psychology.

If people here get the impression that England's plight is so bad that there is little chance for her, the reaction could probably be serious from the point of view of extended aid.

1 Joseph P. Kennedy (1888-1969), United States Ambassador to Britain (1938-40). On 10 November 1940 Kennedy said to the Boston Globe: 'Democracy is finished in England. It may be here'. He later said to Louis M. Lyons of the Boston Globe: 'The whole reason for aiding England is to give us time … as long as she is in there, we have time to prepare. It isn't that [Britain is] fighting for democracy. That's bunk. She's fighting for self-preservation.' Kennedy submitted his resignation in October 1940, but it was not accepted until February 1941.

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