Winston Churchill, Seeing Britain Squandering American Goodwill, Writes: “I feel sure that what has happened has done no end of harm…I am very anxious about the future.”

Churchill Receives a Back Channel Report After His Proteges Meeting With President Roosevelt: Americans Are Dismayed by UK Government Appeasement of the Dictators, and Feel It Has “turned it’s back on the free peoples” .

Martin Gilbert quoted this letter in his book, “Churchill and America”

The retained copy of the report is still present, and is the only written report to Churchill from his network of supporters during the Wilderness Years that we can recall seeing on the market

Among the public men of influence,...

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Winston Churchill, Seeing Britain Squandering American Goodwill, Writes: “I feel sure that what has happened has done no end of harm…I am very anxious about the future.”

Churchill Receives a Back Channel Report After His Proteges Meeting With President Roosevelt: Americans Are Dismayed by UK Government Appeasement of the Dictators, and Feel It Has “turned it’s back on the free peoples” .

Martin Gilbert quoted this letter in his book, “Churchill and America”

The retained copy of the report is still present, and is the only written report to Churchill from his network of supporters during the Wilderness Years that we can recall seeing on the market

Among the public men of influence, only Churchill recognized the profound peril to the world that the Nazis and Fascists represented. He spoke out in Parliament, on the radio, in his newspaper columns, anywhere and everywhere, demanding the government wake up and prepare. As early as 1933, Churchill warned in the House of Commons, “Those Germans are not looking for equal status. They are looking for weapons.” He soon gathered around him a band of like-minded supporters who saw the menace and the potentially fatal nature of the threat. But these men were a small minority, and none of them were in the upper reaches of government. The men who were, the prime ministers and party leaders, not only disagreed with Churchill but considered him a loose cannon and an annoyance. Neville Chamberlain showed the attitude when he later wrote, “The real danger to this country is Winston. He is the warmonger, not Hitler.”

In 1934, in scenes reminiscent of the best spy dramas, Churchill held clandestine meetings at Chartwell, where he was briefed on the actual situation in Germany by the government and military men in his network, men in positions low enough to be without policy-making influence but high enough to know the true facts and statistics being developed. With this information, Churchill shocked Parliament by revealing the true figures of German military production, figures many colleagues refused to believe. In November of 1934, he made a stirring speech in the Commons demanding an increase in military expenditures: “To urge preparation of defense is not to assert the imminence of war…” These words marked a turning point in his career; he would now primarily devote himself to warning of the threat of Germany. And he would continue to rely on key reports from insiders right up to the time he entered the Chamberlain ministry in September 1939.

The march of the dictators now began in earnest. In October 1935, Italy took Ethiopia. Then, on March 7, 1936, Hitler invaded the demilitarized Rhineland, which action conflicted with and basically tore up the Versailles Treaty that ended World War I. Hitler chose that date knowing that Ministers of Parliament would be unavailable on that day; the British ruling class was accustomed “to take its weekends in the country,” criticized Churchill, while “Hitler takes his countries in the weekends.” Churchill understood the meaning of this invasion, saying “An enormous triumph has been gained by the Nazi regime,” and stating “The German Army is a dagger pointed at the heart of France.” But many in Britain saw this as Hitler simply getting his own and the government did nothing.

In 1937 Chamberlain became Prime Minister, and despite growing pressure and stormy Cabinet meetings, he held firm to his policy of appeasing the dictators and denying the necessity of rearming. Saying Hitler was a reasonable person with whom he could negotiate, and refusing to allocate significant funds to build planes and ships, he overpowered or forced out of the cabinet everyone who opposed him. Then came the pivotal year of 1938, when Hitler began to implement his grander plans. In the early hours of March 12, German troops marched into Austria. Hitler himself crossed the border shortly after, welcomed by thunderous crowds, some of which were genuine while some others staged. He visited his birthplace of Braunau, touring his former school and home, and was reported to have gotten emotional. Mussolini was informed by Hitler of the invasion in advance, and he personally telephoned Hitler to say that Austria was “immaterial” to Italy, suggesting Italy’s approval for this annexation. The enthusiastic Hitler told a messenger to bring Mussolini the message “I will never forget him for this!” Meanwhile, Britain and France registered protests but failed to act. In fact, on April 16, 1938, Chamberlain signed the Anglo-Italian Agreement, which acknowledged Italy’s seizure of Ethiopia in exchange for reduction of Italian troops in Spain. Another British purpose was to (fruitlessly) discourage Italy’s alliance with Germany. Meanwhile, Hitler was demanding territorial concessions from Czechoslovakia, while, as Martin Gilbert writes in his book, “Churchill and America”, “Neville Chamberlain sought a closer accommodation with Germany, at the expense of Czechoslovakia’s territorial integrity”.

Philip Guedalla was an author and historian who was a member of Churchill’s network, as well as a member of the group called The Focus, which led by Churchill and people of like mind with Churchill met to persuade their countrymen of the need to respond to the Nazi threat and that of the dictators generally. He was later Churchill’s biographer. Guedalla wrote Churchill on April 20, four days after the Anglo-Italian Agreement, saying he had just returned from the Unites States, and giving him a full report on the attitudes, temper and opinions there. His meetings in the U.S. included a long personal conversation with President Roosevelt, and many other American leaders in Washington and around the country. The Americans were unusually frank with Guedalla, and used him as an informal conduit to British leaders who were as concerned as they were about the dictators, most particularly Churchill.

Guedalla reported what he had heard from President Roosevelt. “I had a long interview with the President as well as attending his press conference twice disguised as a reporter. At that time I found him and everyone else almost embarrassingly pro-British, talking in terms of common action and even formal alliance.” But in March when the British government stepped up its appeasement policy, Guedalla wrote, “The friendly tone dissipated almost instantaneously and was replaced by a feeling that H.M.G [the Chamberlain government] had turned it’s back on the free peoples and decided to fraternize with the gangsters.” Feeling abandoned by the British, American friends contemplated isolationism, and “sank back into a hopeless feeling that Europe was just a mess which had best be left alone. British policy became not an object of uncertainty but contempt.” Guedalla continued, “I think that we tragically underestimated the strength of anti-dictator feeling in the Union.” He next expressed shock that the British government had “persistently failed to avail itself of any American initiative. The long delay in making our answer to the refugee proposal or in taking up any of Cordell Hull’s suggestions for talks between peace loving countries are cases in point.” Guedalla ended by saying, “I am, of course, always at your disposal.”

Now Churchill had fresh and conclusive news that the game the appeasers were playing was not only giving the dictators an advantage, but was snubbing the very Americans whose support Britain would so need. Thus they were in danger of destroying Britain’s best hope for survival – an alliance with the United States.

Typed letter signed with holograph addition, on his Chartwell letterhead, Westerham, Kent, April 22, 1938, to Philip Guedalla, a historian and later Churchill’s biographer, who was in agreement with Churchill on these issues. It is of sufficient importance to be quoted by Martin Gilbert in his book, making the point that Britain’s positions vis a vis Germany and Italy would damage Britain’s relationship with the U.S. “Very many thanks for your letter. I feel sure that what has happened has done no end of harm in the United States. We must have another of our Focus lunches soon.” Churchill continued in holograph, “I am very anxious about the future.” Guedalla’s retained copy of his report to Churchill is present.

Churchill was right that an alliance between Britain and the United States would be necessary to defeat Germany. And he was justified to be anxious when he wrote this letter, as the disastrous Munich Conference was just five months away. At that time, Britain and France agreed that Hitler could take the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia in return for his promise that this was his final territorial demand. Chamberlain returned home waving the agreement and announcing he had secured “Peace in our time.” Churchill was the lone voice in the wilderness, as he told the Commons, “All is over. Silent, mournful, abandoned, broken, Czechoslovakia recedes into the darkness…We are in the presence of a disaster of the first magnitude which has befallen Great Britain and France…We have sustained a defeat without a war…And do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigor, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.” And so it was.

The harm done to the British/American relationship was short term, as in two years Churchill would be Prime Minister and thereafter would work with President Roosevelt to create the Atlantic Alliance. It is an alliance that has endured formally decades so far.

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