Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Churchill Series - Mar. 18, 2009

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

Yesterday we looked at some of what Jon Meacham said in
Franklin and Winston about Churchill and Roosevelt's first meeting in July 1918 at a formal London dinner. FDR attended in his capacity as Assistant Secretary of the Navy and delivered a brief speech. Today, more about that meeting and some of what followed.

Here's more from Meacham:

In later years, Churchill would not recall meeting the American visitor. Roosevelt certainly recalled meeting Churchill, however, and long remembered Churchill’s brusqueness. “I always disliked him since the time I went to England in 1917 or 1918,” Roosevelt said to Joseph P. Kennedy, the American ambassador to Britain, in a conversation in 1939. “At a dinner I attended he acted like a stinker.” Roosevelt and Churchill would not be in contact again for another twenty-one years. When they were, Churchill, not Roosevelt, would be the one sounding the trumpet about the indispensability of an “intimate personal relationship.”
Every historian I've read on the subject says Churchill didn't remember their first meeting and FDR was bothered by that. I don't doubt what the historians say.

As to whether FDR told Kennedy in 1939 that he'd disliked Churchill for acting like "a stinker" at the dinner, I want to pause and consider with you.

Kennedy is the source of that remark, which FDR may very well have made.

The question is did FDR really mean what he said about Churchill, or was he perhaps doing a little play-acting for Kennedy?

We know Roosevelt wasn't above such things. In fact, we know that, along with his many admirable virtues, FDR frequently lied to people if doing so advanced his aims.

In 1939 Kennedy was an outspoken appeaser and critic of Churchill. FDR needed Kennedy's support in the 1940 presidential election. Kennedy was the country's best known Irish-American and Catholic.

You can see what FDR might have been doing.

Tomorrow I'll say some more about the interplay in 1939/40 among FDR, Joe Kennedy and Churchill.

For all Joe Kennedy's drive, intelligence, ruthlessness, and experience, he was no match for Churchill or for FDR, who used Kennedy 1940 for his political ends and then abandoned him.
The quote from Meacham's book can be found here.