Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day Remembrance - Part III

Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin at Yalta, February 9, 1945 [above]. This now-famous photo shoot was coordinated by Hopkins' son, Robert. Robert was drafted for the duty - much to his shock - when Roosevelt turned to him once the three men sat down and said, "How do you want to handle this, Robert?"

Harry Hopkins returned from his latest stay in the hospital just prior to Pearl Harbor and American entry into World War II. On December 22, 1941, Churchill arrived at the White House for an unprecedented "sleepover" that lasted nearly three weeks. Dubbed "The Arcadia Conference", FDR and Churchill debated many hours how the war against Japan would be prioritized compared to the war in Europe. For obvious reasons, Churchill favored a Europe-first strategy. Hopkins agreed. FDR wasn't too sure. In FDR's mind, Japan was the more immediate threat to American territory. It would be years before Hitler could turn his attention toward the United States, while the Japanese primary target was the U.S.

The first day of the conference was grueling for both FDR and Churchill, with Hopkins acting as a buffer. By the time Churchill returned to bed in a room adjacent to the President, he did not look well. Years later, Churchill's physician, Lord Moran, revealed that Churchill actually suffered a massive heart attack on the evening of December 22nd. Moran, after examining Churchill and realizing what had happened - but that Churchill had survived with no ill effects beyond exhaustion and nausea - he did the incredible [to us in 2010, at least] and didn't tell the patient what had happened. Indeed, Churchill wouldn't learn that he had suffered the heart attack in 1941 until after the war.

Churchill's toil paid off, as FDR signed off on a Europe-first strategy. At the Arcadia Conference Churchill first introduced Operation GYMNAST, a proposed invasion of French North Africa. The wily Prime Minister cajoled FDR into consenting to the operation before FDR could consult with the War Department. Hopkins, when apprised of the agreement, understandably feared that FDR could ill-afford such a blatant slap in the face of Secretary of War Stimson and General Marshall.

Hopkins had reason to worry. Stimson grew so infuriated at reports of secret agreements between Churchill and Roosevelt that the elderly statesman threatened to resign. Such a fallout a mere three weeks after Pearl Harbor was a political impossibility for FDR [Stimson was a Republican, promoting the idea of bipartisanship during war]. Naturally, FDR dispatched Hopkins to Stimson's office. Hopkins had built a good relationship with Stimson and was - somehow - able to calm him. He told Stimson that he agreed with him that what FDR had done was "reprehensible" and that he - Hopkins - was going to "read him the riot act". Hopkins next went directly to the White House with one of Stimson's aides in tow. Marching down the hallway to the Oval Office, Hopkins burst through the doors, interrupting FDR while lunching with Churchill, and began to lecture FDR about the trouble he was creating at the War Department. Duly impressed, Stimson's aide returned to his boss to inform him what happened. Crisis averted.

The ultimate result of Arcadia was the "Declaration of the United Nations" against the Axis. With a new partner [with U.S. declaration of war on Germany, the U.S. and U.S.S.R. were now formal allies], a new personality was added into the mix in the form of Soviet Foreign Minister Maxim Litvinov. Prickly and irascible, Litvinov was not exactly a joy to work with. Worse, as with any aide to Stalin, he had absolutely no freedom of authority to make a decision. Literally, every question raised during the four years of allied conferences had to be run ultimately by Stalin before the Soviet representatives could agree [or disagree].

That, of course, was one reason why Litvinov was prickly - one erroneous move could easily land one of Stalin's trusted aides in the gulag and certain death [indeed, Litvinov was prescient: in December 1951 Stalin had him shot and killed because of a disagreement over Soviet strategy in the Cold War]. One of the things that Hopkins learned during his prior visit to the Soviet Union was that Stalin was no "Uncle Joe". He saw first-hand that Stalin - while incredibly charming and gracious in one-on-one meetings - was a meglomaniacal tyrant. While he briefed FDR and Churchill on much that he saw, he watered down his findings about Stalin's brutality. Not because he approved of it, but because he realized that doing so would make it easier for both FDR and Churchill to work with Stalin without being weighed down by moral and humanitarian questions.

This understanding of Stalin also helped him to relate to the strain Litvinov was under. This became useful when Churchill grew irritated at Litvinov for being unable to immediately consent to various changes regarding freedom of religion in the U.N. Declaration. At one point, Churchill exploded at Litvinov in such a rage that FDR worried that the Soviet Foreign Minister was going to withdraw from the talks entirely.

He immediately dispatched Harry. Hopkins had built a friendly if not close relationship with Litvinov in the last six months. He took the Foreign Minister to lunch and commiserated with him over vodka and caviar [because Hopkins by this point was eating little solid food, but because not eating would be considered an insult to Litvinov, the sickly Hopkins forced himself to eat and drink, becoming violently sick shortly after a crisis-averting departure with Litvinov back at the embassy]. Litvinov immediately sent a cable to Stalin asking for permission to agree to the freedom of religion clause. Stalin consented and it was a part of the U.N. Declaration issued January 1, 1942.

Hopkins' efforts sometimes were essentially psychotherapy sessions with Stimson, Marshall, FDR, Churchill, Litvinov and many aides from the War and State Departments who were doing a slow burn at their exclusion from the discussions [FDR's use of Hopkins and the Joint Chiefs of Staff in executing the war - bypassing both the State and War Departments - led President Harry Truman and Congress to try to prevent similar actions in the future by creating the National Security Council in 1947].

One man Hopkins never could win over was Secretary of State Cordell Hull - perhaps the most insignificant State Department leader in our history. Hull in particular blamed Hopkins for his diminished status with FDR. He termed Hopkins' attitude, "selfish, vindictive, vicious" and accused FDR's chief adviser of a "lack of understanding of world affairs." Selfish, vindictive and vicious? Yes, at times. But after six months of world travel and countless meetings with three of the four most powerful people in the world in 1941 [it was doubtful that Hopkins was going to meet Hitler any time soon] the one thing Hopkins didn't have was a lack of understanding of world affairs.

After seeing Churchill off on his return to Britain on January 14, 1942, Hopkins followed his usual routine and checked himself into the Naval Hospital. By this time, it was clear to all that the man who had been FDR's top aide during the fight against the Depression had made the transition to wartime aide. The New York Times wrote that Hopkins, "has more influence with the President than any other living American."

For 1942, FDR's main concern involved engaging German troops in battle somewhere as soon as possible. By the spring, a new plan had been crated to join GYMNAST: Operation ROUNDUP, a cross-channel invasion of France. To review the plan with Churchill, FDR dispatched Hopkins and General Marshall to London in April 1942. Hopkins and Marshall had another goal: to garner Churchill's support for the movement of Allied troops to the British Isles in preparation for an invasion of Europe across the English channel.

At first, Churchill indicated his willingness to accept ROUNDUP. Once he found out that the plan required establishing a permanent beachhead in France [as opposed to coastal raids], however, Churchill wasn't buying. He felt that the Channel was all wrong as the route for the invasion. He argued it was too narrow and too obvious. He also feared the retaliation that might come: if Hitler was dispatching bombers over the Channel to repel the invasion, he could easily add to that another vicious bombing of London and other cities in England. Hopkins spent many hours trying to convince Churchill of the necessity for landing in Europe first [Churchill was hanging on to GYMNAST and an invasion of North Africa] but his efforts ultimately proved futile.

The trip wasn't a total loss. Roosevelt had recently dispatched Louis Johnson as his personal emissary to India - still a British possession. Once in India, Johnson almost immediately infuriated the British by vocally supporting greater Indian presence in the war effort - something the British strongly opposed for fear the Indians would turn the guns on the British instead. Johnson also verbally indicated support for Indian independence. While at first the decision to appoint Johnson seemed a huge failing of FDR, the President soon made it clear that Johnson was actually acting on FDR's orders; the President wanted to pressure Churchill to agree eventually to the liberation of all the British colonies after the war. FDR even cabled Churchill, urging him to reconsider Johnson's statements.

Churchill went apoplectic. He composed a blistering - and foul-language-filled - tirade to be sent to FDR: a trans-Atlantic 'Fuck You' of the highest order. Fortunately for Allied relations, Hopkins was able to intercept the cable before the British consulate could send it. He went back to Churchill with the cable. By this point, the Prime Minister had had time to cool off. Hopkins convinced him to destroy the cable and simply ignore FDR's cable. Crisis averted again.

Hopkins and Marshall returned to America but their stay at home was short-lived. Despite a verbal agreement with Churchill - for the time being - to not stand in the way of planning of ROUNDUP, the Prime Minister was wavering. So, back to London went Hopkins and Marshall. During the first two days there - July 18 and July 19 - debate raged between Marshall and Churchill over a second front. He and Hopkins were getting nowhere, however. Finally, FDR gave up. He wanted some kind of engagement with the enemy in 1942. As committed as FDR was to ROUNDUP, Hopkins was able to convince the President that there was no way that "Jesus Christ himself could" get Churchill to agree to it. So, FDR agreed to allow Hopkins to accept GYMNAST, the invasion of North Africa. After the success of the operation in November 1942, Churchill immediately cabled FDR, "I doubt if success would have been achieved without Harry's invaluable aid."

With the success of the North African invasion in late 1942, policymakers planned another face-to-face meeting between Churchill and FDR, for early 1943. The meeting would take place in Casablanca. The conference took place between January 10-24, 1943. Here, Hopkins played a key role in the troublesome topic of France. A battle was going on between Charles de Gaulle and Henri Giraud as to who truly represented the French people. Somehow, Hopkins managed to get de Gaulle and Giraud - who hated each other with unbridled passion [Giraud joined a group of about 2,000,090 who felt the same way about de Gaulle, by the way]. First, Hopkins arranged a first-time meeting between FDR and de Gaulle. Unbeknownst to Roosevelt, Hopkins had arranged for Giraud to arrive - thinking he was having a one-on-one meeting with FDR. When Giraud walked in, FDR immediately realized with Hopkins had done and seized the moment, as only FDR could, to get both stubborn men to temporarily agree to a 'truce' between them in the interest of France.

By mid-1943, Hopkins' relationships with both Stalin and Churchill were well-known. Arthur Krock, New York Times columnist, wrote, "The British and Russians feel [Hopkins] knows their problems intimately and has effectively pleaded their needs."

Ironically, at that moment, Hopkins' service to FDR was to be interrupted. The constant travel, late nights and his debilitating physical state caught up with him. Weeks went by in the summer of 1943, were Hopkins did not attend war strategy sessions with FDR and his military staff. Roosevelt's health was no better. It is now known that between early 1943 and March 1944, Roosevelt was admitted to Bethesda Naval Hospital 28 times, under such aliases as 'Joe Franklin' and 'Joe Delano'.

Roosevelt and Churchill met twice during the summer of 1943 - in Washington at the 'Trident Conference' and again in Quebec in August at the 'Quadrant Conference'. Hopkins had recently suffered a serious set-back in his health. While FDR understood his companion's health issues, FDR needed someone he could rely on. If Hopkins wasn't going to be there, he was of little use to FDR. Hopkins found himself in the strange position of disfavor with Roosevelt.

Indeed, arriving at Hyde Park in preparation for Quadrant, Churchill was stunned at the chilly relations between Roosevelt and Hopkins. During those days of strain, the relationship between Roosevelt and Churchill also grew tense. After a few days, FDR and Hopkins had a thawing out. Once that happened, the conversations between FDR and Churchill improved. Churchill later recalled, "It was remarkable how definitely my contacts with the President improved, and our affairs moved quicker, as Hopkins began to regain his influence" with Roosevelt.

The reconciliation came at a good time, as Churchill and FDR were set to meet with Joseph Stalin in Teheran. The 'Big Three' meeting was held from November 27-December 2, 1943. There, Hopkins served essentially as FDR's Secretary of State, having meetings with Eden and new Soviet Foreign Minister Viacheslav Molotov. The first direct meeting between the three leaders occurred on the first day, November 27th. Hopkins was the only man in the room who had relationships with all three leaders.

At that first meeting between the leaders, American delegate Averrell Harriman remembered that Stalin immediately recognized and physically embraced Hopkins - much to the shock of Stalin's aides, who had never seen Stalin do such a thing, even with his own son [as an aside, if Stalin was your father, you didn't want to have a falling out with him. When Stalin's son Yakov, a Soviet artillery officer, was captured by the Nazis, his father disowned him; saying he should have committed suicide rather than allow himself to be taken. Stalin had Yakov's wife imprisoned as a result and had sentenced her to death when word came that Yakov did commit suicide in a Nazi concentration camp. Suitably proud to have his son's 'honor' returned, Stalin released Yakov's now-widow]. Harriman remembered, "It was not Stalin's habit to take the initiative this way...Stalin showed Hopkins a degree of personal consideration which I had never seen him show anyone else."

Despite the warm welcome, however, the first meeting of the Big Three went poorly. In all of his years with FDR, Hopkins had rarely criticized Roosevelt and certainly not behind his back. After that first meeting with Stalin, however, Hopkins called Roosevelt "inept. He was asked a lot of questions and gave the wrong answers." [It is worth noting that, in 2009, in a book called FDR's Deadly Secret, Drs. Steven Lomazow and Eric Fetterman argue that Roosevelt was suffering from cancer of the brain by this point. They argue that the dark mole over his left eye - visible in pictures of FDR throughout his Presidency - had become cancerous. They argue that it became melanoma at some point. It went largely untreated until it had metastasised into his brain and stomach. Though in the early stages, according to Lomazow and Fetterman, by November/December 1943 FDR's vision and memory was beginning to be effected. This may, or may not, have contributed to FDR's poor performance at Teheran].

At Teheran, Roosevelt faced a decision as to whom he would name as Commander of the Allied Forces for the long-awaited invasion of Europe. Hopkins strongly argued that Marshall was the only man for the job. Hopkins was so sure that he had convinced FDR that he essentially told Marshall to be prepared to assume command immediately. When Roosevelt stopped in Cairo after Teheran, however, he named Dwight Eisenhower as the Commander. Hopkins - not to mention Marshall - was stunned. The gap in Hopkins' service to Roosevelt from the late spring of 1943 up to the Quadrant Conference in August had changed the relationship between FDR and Hopkins, regardless of their seeming rapprochement. Hopkins' years of travelling and toiling for FDR had taken their toll on his already precarious health. Hopkins' now-almost-constant absences due to illness took their toll on Hopkins' relationship with the President.

Hopkins' health suffered again on January 1, 1944 when he was felled by an illness that doctors were certain would be fatal. Although often these 'illnesses' went undiagnosed, it is generally assumed that his inability to gain nutrition through food - despite numerous daily injections of concoctions that included supplements with a paregoric chaser to ease his stomach pain - left him susceptible to just about all germs. This illness, unlike most of the others, did not subside. It left Hopkins completely idle for seven months. He completely lost touch with FDR. Although disabled himself, FDR could never handle personal relationships with people in similar circumstances [with the notable exception of children with polio]. As such, other than a few summary inquiries of Hopkins' welfare drafted by FDR's secretaries, the President had no contact with Hopkins during this latest illness.

There remained, however, one last shining moment in Hopkins' career with FDR. It was Yalta. On January 21, 1945, Hopkins once again traveled to London after an entire year's inactivity. Hopkins was in London to help prepare FDR for the summit with the Big Three at Yalta. Hopkins joined up with Roosevelt en route to Yalta. Hopkins was stunned by FDR's physical appearance, which had greatly deteriorated since the last time he had seen his friend. Indeed, of the two, many were stunned that Hopkins looked the healthiest of the two.

Obviously, everyone had an agenda at Yalta: Churchill was determined to protect as best he could the remaining British Empire; Stalin intended to protect the Soviets from another German attack by dividing up Germany, extracting large reparations and territorial possessions, and establishing a clear Soviet sphere of influence in Eastern Europe; while FDR sought to enlist the Soviets in the coming attack on Japan as well as to establish the United Nations.

Yalta opened on February 4, 1945. By this point, Hopkins was surviving on a mixture of paregoric, plasma and liver extract. Many of the meetings of FDR's negotiating team held their meetings in Hopkins' bedroom as illness confined him to his bed for all but the actual face-to-face meetings between FDR, Churchill and Stalin. The results of the conference seemed promising at first. Stalin had agreed to fight Japan, to allow 'free elections' in Eastern Europe, and also to participate in the first meeting of the United Nations. The Soviets had also agreed to allow France to join what was called the 'German Control Commission', which would deal with post-war Germany, to reorganize their puppet regime in Poland and to support a coalition government in China headed by Chiang Kai-shek.

Getting to that point, however, had been difficult. For one thing, the Soviets had demanded - much to the horror of the U.S. and Britain - a fixed number for German reparations: $10,000,000. The dispute could easily have ended the conference. FDR at first was unwilling to budge. After first trying to get Churchill to move, Hopkins turned to working on FDR. After long discussions, Hopkins convinced FDR to simply duck the issue: refer it to the Reparations Commission in the future. Stalin and Churchill agreed. Crisis averted.

The final fallout between FDR and Hopkins occurred immediately after Yalta. FDR wanted Hopkins to return with him by ship to the United States to help Roosevelt work on his upcoming speech to Congress to disclose the results of the Yalta conference. Hopkins simply feared the voyage would kill him. Hopkins refused. FDR was stunned. That was the last straw and, despite many years of loyal and unselfish servitude from Hopkins, FDR could not acept such a 'rejection'. On February 18, 1945, the two men said a terse, "Goodbye". They never saw one another again. FDR died on April 12, 1945, Hopkins on January 29, 1946.

How could such a strong bond be severed by FDR? Hopkins' story - in case you haven't guessed by now - is a complex one. His lengthy relatinoship with FDR was predicated on performance, plain and simple. His position in the council of Roosevelt depended entirely on his ability to serve FDR. Remember James MacGregor Burn's comment that Roosevelt was, "committed to no person, no nation, no cause or principle." Ths skill Hopkins displayed for 12 years in serving Roosevelt during the nation's worst economic and international crises, traveliing the globe at the risk of his frail constitution, stand as a tribute to a man dedicated to his boss and to his country.

It is why I wanted to remember him on this Memorial Day.

copyright 1992, 2010 by EBBP Redux. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than EBBP Redux or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Memorial Day Remembrance - Part II

Harry Hopkins waves to onlookers as he boards a flight to London in January 1941 [above]. Hopkins' dozens of trips to London over the next four years played a large role in the relationship between Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.

In 1938, Harry Hopkins would begin a relationship that would have lasting effects on the U.S., even years beyond his death. General George C. Marshall was worried. The armed forces were simply unprepared for what he thought would be the upcoming war. He knew who to go to to get Franklin Roosevelt's ear.

Marshall went to see Hopkins to impress upon the WPA administrator the need for increased funding for the defense industry. Shortly after Marshall's meeting with Hopkins, the WPA chief secretly began transferring millions of dollars from WPA funds to produce machine tools for the manufacture of small arms ammunition. Later, General Arthur R. Wilson - who worked with Hopkins on the project - believed that Hopkins' actions in 1938, "put production of small arms ammunition at least a year ahead so that when England went into the war [in 1939] and started to place orders in this country" the U.S. was ready.

To further Hopkins' credibility in Washington, FDR decided to appoint him Secretary of Commerce on December 23, 1938. Hopkins' work there, however, would be minimal, and he would be forced to resign two years later. Hopkins spent most of 1939 battling stomach disorders as a result of his drastic surgery. In the end, doctors realized he was suffering from a severe nutrition deficiency. The irony that the man who had fed so many millions during the Depression now found himself suffering from a lack of nutrition was not lost on FDR.

Hopkins' health meant that he was often inaccessible when Roosevelt needed him. To rectify this, FDR had Hopkins moved into the White House on May 10, 1940. From this new perch, Hopkins was - literally - the closest person to FDR, sleeping one room away. While FDR professed a deep friendship for Hopkins, FDR equally appreciated having his confident a room away at all times. By moving Hopkins into the White House, Roosevelt insured that - even when illness confined Hopkins to his bed - FDR could easily consult him.

By now, Europe was at war. FDR had made the decision to defy the "two-term" limit tradition. Sensitive that many already considered him a dictator, FDR sought to make it look as though the Chicago Democratic convention delegates "drafted" the President for a third term. Naturally, Hopkins was dispatched to Chicago. Ironically, the hotel suite that Hopkins occupied in the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago was the sight of the famous "smoke-filled room" in 1920 that chose Warren G. Harding as the GOP standard-bearer.

Hopkins - working with Chicago Mayor Edward Kelly - bullied, jostled and cajoled delegates to back FDR. To make delegates feel less nervous about bucking tradition, or about appearing to be the first ones to demonstrate in favor of Roosevelt, Hopkins engineered an ingenious trick. He placed a number of Mayor Kelly's "men" in the basement of the convention center. He placed them in front of microphones connected with loudspeakers concealed throughout the convention hall above. At the mention of FDR's name, the men in the basement cheered wildly. The delegates were unaware of the origin of the outburst. Those on the platform believed that the euphoria was coming from the delegates. Pretty soon, like an avalanche, everyone was cheering. The trick worked.

After FDR's reelection, Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter was dining with the President. Frankfurter was worried about Britain's ability to survive the war. Frankfurter suggested that FDR send Hopkins to London to meet directly with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill - a man FDR had met only once, during a forgetable social gathering during FDR's tenure as Assistant Secretary of the Navy during World War I.

FDR knew Hopkins was gravely ill. He also knew, however, that he would need a conduit to Churchill to learn truly what the situation was. Finally, he knew that - regardless of his health - Hopkins would agree to go. In January 1941, Hopkins began a journey that he would repeat literally dozens of times over the next four-plus years. Churchill immediately took to Hopkins. Later, in his memoirs, Churchill would call Hopkins, "the most faithful and perfect channel of communication between the President and me."

By this point in the war, Britain was in dire straits. Repeated bombings from the Luftwaffe, low morale, and dwindling funds all created an environment of despair. Churchill knew from others the role Hopkins played in FDR's life and he was determined to send Hopkins back to Washington with a message: we need help.

Hopkins arrived in London on January 10, 1941. In remembering that first meeting, Churchill recalled "Thus I met Harry Hopkins, that extraordinary man, who played, and was to play, a sometimes decisive part in the whole movement of the war." At that first meeting, Hopkins played devil's advocate, thrusting questions at Churchill in a barrage of inquisition: Why should the U.S. send materiel to Great Britain, only to have them end up in German hands when Britain fell? What was the true currency situation in Britain? What if Germany attempted an invasion? Churchill answered each one, convinced by the end of the meeting that he had demonstrated to Hopkins that Britain would survive if the U.S. could throw her a lifeline.

Hopkins wasn't so sure. He held private talks with Churchill's Foreign Minister Anthony Eden and with Americans in the diplomatic corps in London. Hopkins went back to Churchill with more questions. By this point, Churchill had thought of a different way to bring Hopkins along. He would use FDR's - and Hopkins' - commitment to social justice and freedom from persecution to give Hopkins the "ultimate" reason to support Britain. Churchill asked Hopkins, what would FDR think of a German-dominated Europe, where secret police rounded up citizens indiscriminately? Hopkins paused before responding. He clearly saw what Churchill was doing. To make clear that philosophical questions about freedom had little to do with FDR's goals in 1941, Hopkins responded, "Well, Mr. Prime Minister, I don't think the President will give a damn for all that! You see, we're only interested in seeing that goddamn son-of-a-bitch Hitler get licked!" Churchill loved the bluntness. He told his aides to make sure that Hopkins saw whatever he wanted to see. As such, Hopkins enjoyed extraordinary access to the workings of the British government. He attended freely all British Cabinet meetings and was made privy to many of Britain's war plans.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, more than a few in the Administration were seething. Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, for one, worried that Hopkins would be too easily influenced by Churchill's personality. The State Department bitterly resented Hopkins' "intrusion" into their world of diplomacy. FDR's blatant usurpation of the rightful diplomatic channels left scores in the War and State Departments furious.

Ironically, it was Hopkins who had a tremendous influence on Churchill rather than the other way around. Hopkins' sense of "can-do" and positivity made deep impressions on Churchill, Eden and the entire War Cabinet. So much so that Churchill decided that Hopkins should travel with him north to Scapa Flow in Scotland to review the Royal Navy, as well as to speak to the discouraged sailors watching dozens of their colleagues die daily in German submarine attacks. Churchill also wanted to impress upon Hopkins the strength of the Royal Navy - even after the German onslaught - and what it would mean if the Germans were able to get their hands on it.

In Scotland, speaking to a crowd of sailors and other British military personnel, Hopkins made it clear that he had come to a decision as to what he would tell FDR. Hopkins closed his address by quoting from the Book of Ruth, "Wither though goest I will go...even to the end."

Hopkins did not do this on his own. By this point, he had communicated enough with FDR via cable to know that FDR had given him the go-ahead to let the British know that America would supply them. Having Hopkins give the promise, however, was a lot safer for FDR than having to do it himself. The President risked a great deal by coming out and saying the U.S. would support Britain without having a firm plan to present to Congress to do so. With Hopkins doing it, however, when it was picked up in the American press, FDR could always say that Hopkins' was acting on his own.

During Hopkins' stay in Britain, once he had agreed with Hopkins' conclusion, FDR presented to Congress the Lend-Lease Bill, a plan to aid the British in their effort against Hitler. FDR signed the bill on March 11, 1941, naming Hopkins Lend-Lease Administrator. The New York Times said at the time, "As he faces the unprecedented task of amassing supplies for the United States and Great Britain...the President says again: 'Send for Harry!'"

Roosevelt sent the ailing Hopkins again to London in July 1941. The conference between Hopkins and Churchill was intended to lay the groundwork for the upcoming meeting between Churchill and FDR. Arriving on July 16, 1941, Hopkins brought with him General Marshall. Hopkins made sure to get Marshall as involved as possible because he realized his own decision-making remained flawed in terms of military matters. Hopkins' insistence on making Marshall a part of all discussions laid the groundwork for an excellent relationship between Marshall and Churchill and a strengthening of the 'Grand Alliance' of the U.K. and America.

By this point in the war, the Soviet Union had been invaded by Germany, ending the short-lived 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop pact between those two nations. While FDR was satisfied with his relationship with Churchill, with the Soviets now in the war on the allies' side, he was concerned with how little he knew about Stalin and Soviet resolve in the face of the German onslaught. Hopkins, too, was concerned that he could offer FDR no insight on the Soviet leader.

For that reason, on July 25, 1941, Hopkins requested FDR's permission to fly to Moscow to meet Stalin - who, despite the fact that the man was a raving murderous lunatic who made Hitler look like Mother Teresa, Hopkins insisted on referring to as "Uncle Joe" in his correspondence. Roosevelt - who was even more pleased than he expected to be with the success Hopkins had with Churchill - agreed.

By this point in his travels, Hopkins was even more ill than normal. He overlooked his physical limitations, however, and embarked on what was then a 24-hour flight to the Soviet Union. Stalin, a man rarely impressed, marveled at the scrawny sickly-looking man who had made such a harrowing journey to assess Soviet needs. The meetings between Hopkins and Stalin - in hindsight - would be a turning-point in the war. Considering the fact that both Roosevelt and Churchill were sure that the Soviets would collapse in the face of the Nazi onslaught, Stalin also knew from his spies the power Hopkins could have in influencing FDR. For two days, Stalin pulled out all the stops to convince Hopkins that the Soviets - with help - could not only survive but push the Germans back. With Hopkins now convinced that Stalin had the ability to do just that, never again would Anglo-American strategists base their war plans on the premise of a soviet collapse.

Stalin convinced Hopkins that the Soviets would survive beyond 1941. Greatly impressed with Soviet resolve, Hopkins returned to London to join Churchill on his voyage to meet up with FDR on the seas at the Atlantic Conference. Unfortunately, Hopkins somehow forgot the array of medicines that kept him alive, leaving them behind in Moscow. Discovering his mistake, Hopkins feverishly - literally - dictated his notes to FDR in mid-air, convinced he would not survive the 24-hour flight. The pilot who returned Hopkins to England later recalled, "we wondered if there was to be any rest for a man so obviously ill and yet showing unbelievable courage, determination and appreciation for the services of others. His was a noteworthy example of unparalleled devotion to duty."

Hopkins survived. His summer trips to London and Moscow changed the agenda of the Atlantic Conference from a simple, get-acquainted forum into a major event, with military and diplomatic personnel out in force. [Many of the American sailors at that conference, unfortunately, would die a few months later at Pearl Harbor.] That change in status obviously further increased Hopkins' importance to the President, as he now personally knew all of the players: the American leaders and personnel, the British leaders and personnel, and now Stalin and his upper echelon [assuming the crazy bastard didn't wake up and decide to have them all murdered].

On August 9, 1941, Hopkins arrived with Churchill at Argentia Harbor for the meeting. During the rendezvous at sea, Hopkins brought the two leaders together, updated them on the Soviet situation, monitored the egos of both men to ensure amiability. Hopkins' ability to keep Churchill and FDR focused on the issues at hand when the two would try to avoid topics where the two men disagreed led Churchill to dub him, "Lord Root of the Matter". Indeed, in his memoirs Churchill would recall the numerous times when, "the discussion [between he and FDR] flagged and all seemed baffled, it was on these occasions [Hopkins] would rap out the deadly question - 'Surely, Mr. President, here is the point we have got to settle. Are we going to face it or not.' Faced it always was, and, being faced, was conquered."

Hopkins' work at the Atlantic Conference included numerous efforts behind the scenes to bring the two, strong-willed, leaders together, coaching both men on how to deal with one another, cracking jokes, and generally improving the rapport between them.

In the fall of 1941, with the work at the conference complete, Hopkins checked himself into a Naval hospital near the White House. His role as liaison had been rewarding, but at a cost to his already precarious health. Though ill, he recuperated close to the White House, always in touch when the President needed him. Time magazine noted, "The President's eyes, ears, nose and legs went to bed last week...[and] many & many a defense project crawled in with him...."

copyright 1992, 2010 by EBBP Redux. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than EBBP Redux or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Memorial Day Remembrance - Part I

Harry L. Hopkins [above] was one of the few FDR acolytes to arrive with Roosevelt in 1933 and remain with him for the duration of his Presidency.

This being Memorial Day weekend, I thought I would dedicate the posts over the next three days to a man who never served a day in the U.S. Armed Services. He never fired a gun, nor commanded a PT boat. He was never a fighter pilot, and never led troops over a hill. Yet he was, perhaps, the most important civilian in World War II. Without him, the U.S. most certainly still would have won the war. It would most likely have taken longer, however, resulting in more lives lost and certainly in more lives ruined.

I speak of Harry L. Hopkins. The man who served as Franklin D. Roosevelt's "legs" for the greater part of his three-plus terms in office is worthy of remembrance on this Memorial Day. Without him, I believe, far, far more families would have spent Memorial Days mourning lost loved ones killed in battle.

For his service to Roosevelt before World War II, Hopkins would be worth remembering. His role in the New Deal was perhaps unparalleled. For the work he did for Roosevelt after 1938, however, is why he is someone who should be remembered this weekend.

"You'll learn what a lonely job this is, and you'll discover the need for somebody like Harry Hopkins who asks for nothing except to serve you." So said FDR to his soon-to-bee 1940 opponent Wendell Wilkie. At the time - late 1939, before FDR had decided to run for a third term; and when he assumed [correctly] that Wilkie would be the GOP standard-bearer in 1940 - FDR could not have imagined that Hopkins had not even begun some his greatest service to his country. Hopkins had done so much, already, that it is worth noting that FDR - at the time he made his comment to Wilkie - was just talking about Hopkins' work in the New Deal.

The lengthy relationship between FDR and Hopkins represented an aberration of the Roosevelt years. Few of those who arrived with Roosevelt in 1933 remained in FDR's close circle for the entire 12 years of his Presidency. Hopkins, however, held a place of prominence in the council of the President for most of the duration. To secure, strengthen, and maintain such a position with FDR was an incredibly difficult - if not impossible - task for most. Indeed, not even Eleanor Roosevelt was able to do so.

As James MacGregor Burns notes, Roosevelt was, "committed to no person, no nation, no cause or principle." Some might view that as a criticism - as indeed Burns did - but it also served him - and the country - well. Hopkins' skill at serving Roosevelt, in any capacity FDR desired, with enormous risk to his own depreciating health, provided the primary reason for his longevity in the Roosevelt inner-circle. The degree of warmth in the relationship between the two men largely depended on Hopkins' ability to perform as FDR desired. The aptitude Hopkins displayed in getting results for Roosevelt accounted for his standing in the Administration.

While I want to focus attention on Hopkins' work during the war, some background is necessary to understand who Hopkins was. Hopkins was born October 17, 1890. He hailed from Grinnell, Iowa, where he graduated college in 1912. He moved to New York City and became enmeshed in the Progressive reform movement sweeping the big cities at the turn of the 20th century. This movement imbued Hopkins with a spirit of social work that would define his pre-WWII life. With the exception of a tour of duty for the Red Cross during World War I, Hopkins worked in various social agencies in New York City from 1912-1931.

The Depression, effecting the entire nation at large, hit particularly hard in the industrial states. In 1931, New York Governor Franklin Roosevelt created the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration [TERA]. Jesse Straus, TERA Chairman, appointed Hopkins as his deputy. While at TERA Hopkins had few, if any, direct dealings with FDR personally, and the lanky Iowan remained largely unknown to the Governor for some time.

Hopkins observed that FDR responded favorably to those around him who generated new ideas for his purposes. After Roosevelt's election to the Presidency in 1932, therefore, Hopkins devised a relief program - similar to TERA - on a national scale. In March 1933, Hopkins presented his plan to FDR, and Roosevelt accepted the ideas that became the Federal Emergency Relief Administration [FERA].

Thus began a twelve-year relationship between two men who would work together through a vast array of domestic and international crises. Although only one of literally hundreds of people who came to Roosevelt with ideas for the New Deal, Hopkins began to learn the ways of FDR's mind, honing his skills with the single goal of better serving FDR.

On May 22, 1933, the U.S. Senate confirmed Hopkins' appointment as FERA Chairman. Hopkins designed FERA to provide large sums of federal money to the various states for further disbursement to those who needed the relief. As Federal Relief Administrator, Hopkins became the greatest spender of the federal treasury in the Nation's history, earning the wrath of many conservatives in the process. Hopkins gained Roosevelt's respect and trust, gladly absorbing blows from conservatives meant for FDR.

By the fall of 1933, Hopkins wearily eyed the coming 1933-34 winter and its effects on the jobless and poor. Hopkins, therefore, combined his own concern with the disadvantaged with his desire to serve FDR. He proposed a work-relief plan to employ four million people for the winter. In November 1933, FDR agreed and announced the creation of the Civil Works Administration [CWA]. Hopkins' concern about the winter was prescient: during the winter of 1933-34, temperatures dropped as low as minus-56 degrees in parts of New England. As Time magazine at the time noted, roughly 20 million people received their only food and heat from the "public purse".

One test that many FDR advisers failed - and one that led to many subsequent departures - was a willingness to subjugate their own ideas and beliefs if FDR lost interest in them, or felt they were no longer politically useful. So it was in the spring of 1934 when Roosevelt - concerned about the 1934 mid-term elections, put Hopkins in charge of the dismantling of the CWA, a source of Hopkins' greatest pride. Despite this, Hopkins not only dismantled the CWA, but impressed FDR with his willingness to defend the decision repeatedly in the press and in speeches throughout the northeast.

Shortly thereafter, Hopkins rose to the upper echelon of the FDR coterie of advisers. A New York Times feature on July 8, 1934 noted, that Hopkins, "is placed by those who know, or claim to, in the first rank of the President's advisers." Indeed, an anonymous Senator told Time, "If Roosevelt ever became Jesus Christ, he should have Harry Hopkins as his prophet."

After the elections of 1934, Roosevelt wanted a reexamination of the relief policy of the first two years of the Administration. He wanted greater emphasis on massive public works projects as opposed to direct cash relief. Hopkins devised the idea of a public works program to remove as many people from direct relief as possible. Hopkins traveled to Warm Springs, Georgia, to spend Thanksgiving with FDR. There, Hopkins introduced his idea to FDR, who almost immediately signed off on it. So was born the Works Progress Administration [WPA].

Hopkins, having passed many tests of loyalty, began to render to Roosevelt his services as personal adviser. After two years, Hopkins possessed all the traits that FDR demanded of an adviser: he was inventive, untiring in his determination, unselfish, demanding of others and - above all - he made it his first priority to know what Roosevelt wanted done about any particular issue. By now, too, FDR's political mentor, Louis Howe, was dying. With Howe's death, Hopkins assumed the latter's role as FDR's alter-ego - a fact that many fellow FDR advisers who had been closer to FDR just a few months earlier deeply resented. As Adolf Berle - a trusted member of FDR's 'Brain Trust' - noted, "Harry Hopkins is nice and likeable, but would commit murder for the President."

On May 6, 1935,, FDR's Executive Order created the WPA, with Hopkins as administrator. Hopkins used his new post to wield political clout in the form of lucrative public works projects dangled before big-city politicians eager to get reelected by their constituents. Hopkins, thus, brought the liberal bosses of the big cities into what is now called the Second New Deal. In so doing, Hopkins aided Roosevelt in building the powerful Democratic coalition of the 1930s. As James Byrnes - one of those politicians - noted, Hopkins' use of the WPA changed the face of American politics. Prior to the Depression, municipalities relied on political machines like Tammany Hall. WPA, however, started the trend of cities depending on the federal treasury for assistance. That changed everything: for good, and bad.

Hopkins' greatest utilization of the WPA had little to do with politics, however. He brought many Army engineers into various WPA projects. This was the precursor to rebuilding the armed forces after the post-World War I decline. One WPA executive, Col. Lawrence Westbrook, believed that engineer officers gained experience on WPA projects that, "played a large part in qualifying them for the outstanding parts that so many played in World War II."

Hopkins' work at WPA led to an even greater increase in the criticism conservatives hurled at FDR. Again, Hopkins took the brunt of it. Many harbored jealousy based on the power Hopkins had amassed. Many Congressmen, too, saw WPA as a usurpation of their pork-barreling rights. Hopkins was not entirely faultless. As he amassed more and more power he did begin to start to believe his press clippings, he suffering from the intoxication of power. A once-humble and almost slovenly public servant, by the mid-1930s Hopkins had acquired a taste for fashionable society, frequenting Broadway nightclubs and vacationing on Long Island and Palm Beach.

1935 was also a seminal year in the FDR-Hopkins relationship for other reasons. In July 1935 doctors diagnosed Hopkins with a duodenal ulcer. Although nominally healthy for most of his life, Hopkins began to appear less and less healthy, taking on a skinny and gaunt look. This was the beginning of a great deterioration in his health that further bonded him with FDR. The great illnesses and debilitations that Hopkins would endure for the rest of his life - and his refusal to allow them to stop him form maintaining a harrowing schedule of activity in the service of Roosevelt - made a deep and lasting impression on FDR, who knew a thing or two about the subject.

The remainder of the 1930s were physically difficult for Hopkins. On December 20, 1937, Hopkins underwent a nearly never-before-tried surgery for adenocarcinoma - cancer of the glands. For 97-98% of those suffering from such a condition in 1937, the diagnosis meant death. The surgery required the removal of two-thirds of Hopkins' stomach. Amazingly, the cancer was removed and never recurred. However, the removal of a such a large portion of his stomach left Hopkins susceptible to numerous other illnesses. After this surgery, Hopkins would never again know a healthy day in his life.

It was after his amazing recovery from this near-fatal illness that Hopkins began to take a greater role in the United States defense program. Though war had not actually been declared in Europe, and although Hopkins knew next to nothing about foreign policy, what he did know was that FDR was worried. More and more in his private conversations with Hopkins, the President would confess his concern about the future of the world and Adolf Hitler's Germany.

Thus began Hopkins' role in preparing the U.S. for war. Had he retired at the time of his surgery, his role in U.S. history would have been firmly secured. Indeed, he probably would have become the greatest hero of the New Deal among liberals for the next 50 years. His work after 1938, however, tarnished his image in the minds of many liberals. It is that work that we'll review in tomorrow's post.

copyright 1992, 2010 by EBBP Redux. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than EBBP Redux or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sammy and Kermit

WHEN ENTERTAINMENT WAS THE TRUE REALITY TELEVISION: Sammy Davis Jr [left] and Jim Henson [right, with Kermit] were part of an era of talented entertainers the like of whom we'll likely never see again. Both men died 20 years ago today.

How is it possible that 20 years have passed? It is simply inconceivable to me. I can remember the day as though it was just a week ago. The double-whammy. One you knew was imminent, the other was a punch in the gut. 20 years. May 16, 1990. On that day, 20 years ago, we lost two of the greats: Sammy Davis Jr. and Jim Henson.

What I can't remember, however, is whose death I learned of first [Henson died first, early on the morning of May 16th]. I want to say it was Sammy's, but that may have more to do with the inordinate amount of media coverage it garnered compared to when word of Henson's death was released. Sammy had been in deteriorating health from throat cancer. When he was admitted to Cedar-Sinai Medical Center in early 1990, doctors told him they might be able to save his life with a radical new procedure that included the removal of his vocal chords. Perhaps apocryphal, the story goes that Sammy looked at the doctors and said, "I'm not leavin' [this Earth] without my pipes, man." True to his word, Davis discharged himself from the hospital in mid-March 1990 and went home to die. For weeks, a morbid vigil developed in front of Davis' California home as reporters seemingly eagerly awaited word of the entertainer's death.

It was that preparation and expectation that may explain the way Henson's death was - at the time - overlooked by many. The mainstream media was ready for Davis' death. True, Davis was also a larger 'star'. But Henson's death at any other time would have been the lead story. Instead, it was largely overlooked at the time. It was only as days passed - particularly the moving memorial tribute to him at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City on May 22nd - that the reality of Henson's death began to sink in. I defy anyone to watch it and not be moved to tears.

Being of the same age as Sesame Street, I grew up with Henson - although I was probably about 10 when I first heard his name. My favorite Muppet was always Kermit the Frog. I enjoyed the others, but to me Kermit was the star.

Humble, funny, sarcastic without malice, and above all: an entertainer. That describes both Henson and Sammy Davis [not to mention Kermit]. That was another factor that made their deaths so ironic and sad: there are too few nice people in the world; to lose two in one day sucked.

Unlike Davis' terminal illness, Henson's death was completely unexpected. The entire episode took less than four full days. On May 12th Henson traveled to visit his father in North Carolina. The next morning he awoke not feeling well. Surprisingly - considering his Christian Science religious background - he sought out a doctor for consultation that day. The doctor found nothing to indicate pneumonia and simply told Henson to take aspirin and try to sleep. Henson decided to fly back home to New York. Henson was visited at home by his wife - from whom he was now separated - where they talked long into the evening. He fell asleep but awoke at 2 am on May 15th coughing up blood and having difficulty breathing. He uncharacteristically told Jane he thought he was dying. Around 4 am he consented to being taken to the hospital. He was admitted at 4:58 am at roughly the same time he became unable to breathe on his own at all. He was placed on a ventilator and pumped with an aggressive series of antibiotics. It was no use. Twenty hours later, at 1:21 am on May 16th, he died. The cause of death was organ failure due to a streptococcal infection.

While Henson was extremely influential on my childhood memories, so was Sammy. I first saw him singing The Candyman somewhere. He appeared in an episode of All in the Family a little later [this was, no doubt, a re-run, as the original episode aired in 1972]. I saw him in old clips. Singing, dancing. Laughing. Sammy was the real deal, and I knew it even as a kid. As much as I loved Michael Jackson as a kid, I scoffed at comparisons between he and Davis when it came to entertainment and dancing. While Davis had almost as bizarre a personal life as did Jackson [although I knew about neither man's peccadilloes until much later], Sammy had charisma and charm. Jackson had surprisingly almost no personality at all.

There was something endearing about Sammy. He'd appear on a sitcom [I seem to remember a recurring character on Diff'rent Strokes] throughout the 1980s and I came to truly love his music and his persona. To me, even as a kid, Sammy Davis was cool.

So, today, on the 20th anniversary of their deaths, I remember these two great men. I sit here in wonder that it has been 20 years. Today, had they lived, Henson would have been 73 and Davis 84. Over the past twenty years many of their collaborators and contemporaries are gone. Indeed, the last person with whom Sammy recorded a song - Lena Horne - died just the other day [the song, by the way, is phenomenal: I Wish I'd Met You]. They were part of an era when 'entertainment' meant more than watching some fat bastard try to lose weight, some chick with enormous tits and not-so-enormous talent try to win a karaoke contest, or some incredibly dysfunctional psychopaths try to raise eight children on television in an attempt to become famous. It meant real talent. Real magic.

Sammy Davis and Jim Henson. They were the ultimate and true reality television. RIP gentlemen, 20 years later you are still sorely missed.

copyright 2010 by EBBP Redux. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than EBBP Redux or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.