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...."

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