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.
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