Winston Churchill as a factor influencing Americans at the outset, June 1941
By far the most spectacular and fateful extension of hands across the Volga occurred at the very start of the Russo-German war. Winston Churchill, prime minister of Great Britain, flung himself into the arms of Josef Stalin the very day the Red premier became involved in war with Hitler, a few hours after the German attack. Churchill, head of Britain’s war coalition government since May 1940, had managed to achieve two main things since then: the supervision of an unbroken string of disastrous military defeats, and the dazzling, if not the gassing, of the English speaking world with an incredible volume of turgid rhetoric. If l9th century declamatory talk could have won wars, World War Two would have ended in British victory a few weeks after it began.
On June 22, 1941, Churchill was on the world’s radios before the first day’s gunfire had ceased reverberating across Eastern Poland, repudiating over two decades of ferocious anti-Bolshevik oratory and journalistic writing, promising unstinted aid to Stalinist Russia and announcing a single war aim: the physical destruction of Adolf Hitler and his government. In view of the hapless British wartime performance and its even more dim promise, it was a desperate moment and Churchill’s eager grasping for what was surely a drowning man’s straw can be understood, since he had categorically ruled out ending the war by negotiation. But this unqualified transfer of the initiative to Stalin was also the act which guaranteed the swift expulsion of Britain from its centuries-old key spot in European balance of power manipulation, precipitated evaporation of its global empire, its reduction first to the status of a stationary American aircraft carrier off the coast of Europe, and then to a tottering and precarious second rate status in a steady forty-year decline upon achieving its most costly “victory” in its national history.
The tardiness of Stalin and his circle of Red functionaries in responding to Churchill’s generous offer of unstinted support reflected the discount to which British “aid” was subject, in view of the near-zero impact of such assistance supplied to Poland in its grave predicament in September 1939. Though Stalin got around to a radio address on July 3, 1941, welcoming the British to the Communist side in a “struggle” “for democratic liberties” in a “united front of the people standing for freedom and against enslavement,” which latter should have been grand news to the many millions in Stalin’s slave labor camps, he was too much of a realist to expect British military help or supplies in any great hurry.
The importance of the flight of Churchill to Stalin’s side was not the practical situation attending immediate material support. It was rather in the effect of this impulsive action on the sympathetic Roosevelt administration, which had to become involved under far more obstructive circumstances, namely, the national non-belligerence of the moment, and the national irritation with Communist-dominated labor unions and their record of industrial trouble-making during the period of Russian neutrality since September 1939. This had been a grave nuisance to the noninterventionist elements during the time. Now, Soviet eagerness for American intervention was to nag their adversaries, whether interested in the welfare of British or Russians. On the official side of the aid-to-the-Soviet question, the President had as close advisors in favor of such help a goodly collection. It included Secretaries of War and Navy Henry L. Stimson and Frank Knox; former Ambassador to Russia Joseph E. Davies, now Special Assistant for War Emergency Problems and Policies to Secretary of State Cordell Hull; Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau; Sumner Welles, Acting Secretary of State; Ambassador to Russia Lawrence Steinhardt; Postmaster Frank C. Walker (as a prominent Catholic layman, Walker was especially useful in countering general Catholic opposition to involvement with Communist Russia); Colonel Philip R. Eaymonville, U.S. Military Attache in Moscow (Davies' principal prop before he was replaced by Steinhardt); and especially Harry Hopkins, elevated from his job related to grubby New Deal welfare agencies to the glamorous post of Administrator of Lend-Lease, the aid-to-Britain program passed by Congress in March 1941 which made the U.S. a de facto participant in World War Two.
To be sure, when Churchill propelled England and the resources of the British Empire to the succor of Stalinist Russia, he had no political problem. The influential and powerful supporters of a conciliatory policy toward Germany in the 1930s associated with The Link, the Friends of Germany and the Anglo-German Fellowship had gone underground or joined in the “war effort,” battered by Stalinist propaganda as “appeasers” before and after the 1939 Pakt. (The British Stalinists had endured some abuse themselves, between August 1939 and June 1941. They had been particularly incensed at the gibe “Communazi” in that time.) The supporters of Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists and figures of the implacably anti-communist Right Club such as Captain A.H.M. Ramsay, a Member of Parliament, had been jailed by Churchill’s Ministry of Home Security headed by Sir John Anderson, under the terms of Regulation 18B. Anderson had even ordered the arrest and detention in special concentration camps starting May 12, 1940, of almost 75,000 German, Austrian, Italian and Czech refugees in England, despite their hatred of their home regimes and collaboration with the British. A ship, the Arandora Star, carrying 1200 of these internees to Canada, was torpedoed or struck a mine and sank off the coast of Ireland on July 3, 1940. Over half the passengers drowned.
And for a year England had been badgered by a large corps of private intelligence agents of the Ministry of Information, con- ducting the “Moral and Social Survey” of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, known colloquially as “[Duffl Cooper’s Snoopers,” a powerful depressant on expression of individual opinion. The wonder is that anyone in Britain opposed Churchill’s headlong dive to Stalin’s relief. (l2)