Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Churchill Series – June 12, 2007

(One of a series of weekday posts on the life of Winston S. Churchill.)

Readers Note: Two of you commented yesterday. I’m rushed now and traveling tomorrow. But in a few days I’ll respond to both of you in a Talking with Regulars & Commenters post.


I try most days not to make your lives more difficult than they already are. Today will be different. I want to invite you to wrestle with a difficult question.

Recall in yesterday’s post I mentioned that while Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt were meeting secretly at Argentia Bay, Newfoundland, their military chiefs were meeting there at the same time. The American public was later told the chiefs were there to get acquainted and discuss protecting American merchant shipping in the North Atlantic.

As I said yesterday, that “was true but incomplete. Much more was discussed between the two nations’ military chiefs. They discussed the distribution between the two countries of the military arms America was then beginning to produce in increasing numbers. They also discussed a common war strategy.”

I then quoted some of what historian Martin Gilbert records one of Churchill’s military aides, Col. Ian Jacob, said after the meeting in a memo Jacob prepared for Churchill. Today I want to give you all of what Gilbert records Jacob wrote and then ask you the difficult question. Gilbert records Jacob wrote:

The Americans have a long way to go before they can play any decisive part in the war. Their Navy is further ahead than their Army, both in thought and in resources.

Both are standing like reluctant bathers on the brink, but the Navy are (sic) being forced to dip a toe at a time into the shark-infested water. Their ideas, however, have not got beyond how to avoid being bitten; they have not yet reached out to thoughts of how to get rid of the sharks.

The President and his entourage (by “entourage” Jacob meant FDR’s civilian aides) are far ahead, and intend to keep pushing forward until the time comes when the Germans can no longer disregard American provocation. The sailors and soldiers only hope that moment won’t come before they can gather together some respectably armed forces with which to fight.
The “American provocation” Jacob is talking about refers to conflicts between the American navy seeking to protect our shipping and German U-boats seeking to disrupt the lifeline of supplies to Britain. You can read here about what some historians say was an undeclared war in the North Atlantic in 1939 to 1941. At the time of the Atlantic Charter meeting, many well-informed people thought if America got into the war, it would be because of an incident in the North Atlantic.

My question: Do you agree with Jacob when, for all practical purposes, he says FDR in August 1941 was pushing the U. S. into war rather than merely preparing the U. S. for war if it came?
For this post I drew especially on Martin Gilbert’s Finest Hour: 1939 – 1941. (Houghton Mifflin, 1983). The portion of Jacob’s memo I quoted can be found on pg. 1166.


Sir Martin Gilbert said...

I am delighted (and much encouraged) that you find my work of service.

Many thanks,

Martin Gilbert