"I think it is important from many angles that the democracies of the world keep in close personal and official touch with each other".
In June 1937, FDR appointed Florence J. Harriman U.S. ambassador to Norway, making her the second American woman to hold ministerial rank. Between her selection and the summer of 1938, the threat to the world posed by the dictatorships grew significantly. The Japanese devastated China, and American gunboats evacuated most of the...
In June 1937, FDR appointed Florence J. Harriman U.S. ambassador to Norway, making her the second American woman to hold ministerial rank. Between her selection and the summer of 1938, the threat to the world posed by the dictatorships grew significantly. The Japanese devastated China, and American gunboats evacuated most of the staff from the embassy at Nanking during November 1937.
In December that city fell and over 200,000 civilians were killed in the Japanese assault. To make matters more grim, on December 12, Japanese naval aircraft sank the U.S. ship Panay; 3 Americans were killed and 48 wounded. In May 1937, Neville Chamberlain had become prime minister of Great Britain. With war clouds over Europe, and conflict already exploded in Spain, he proved unwilling to go down in history as responsible for the outbreak of another world war and openly advocated appeasing the dictators.
At 1937 year’s end, the concerned Roosevelt sought British support for an appeal that all governments work to reach unanimous agreement on: 1) principles of acceptable international conduct; 2) limitation and reduction of armaments; 3) methods of promoting economic pacification through equality of treatment and opportunity; and 4) outlawing of inhuman methods of warfare. Roosevelt’s approach was rejected by Chamberlain. Then in March 1938, Japan mobilized for total war and received explicit German support. On the 12th of that same month Hitler occupied Austria, making it clear that his ambitions were unrestrained and setting in motion a chain of events which led to the debacle at Munich later in the year.
Roosevelt now saw the danger as grave and the need to meet it immediate. Unable to secure a bilateral approach with Britain (yet knowing that its eventual involvement would be essential), he turned his attention to trying to awaken the other democratic peoples to the threat and forge a cooperative plan of action. He believed if he could accomplish this, Great Britain would be drawn in ultimately. One characteristic of FDR was his belief that if he could just speak with a person man-to-man, without the interference of intermediaries or bureaucrats, they would find common ground and come to an agreement. It was an approach that he used with consumate skill domestically. He had tried to reach Chamberlain through outside channels to develop such a relationship but failed; he would use informal approaches with great success with Winston Churchill just a few years later.
In the summer of 1938 he sought to use this strategy and reach out to other free nations, hoping through a personal touch with their leaders to begin coalition-building. It was in this spirit that he wrote Mrs. Harriman at the embassy in Oslo, seeking to arrange a visit from the Norwegian crown prince, Olav. It was perhaps more than a coincidence that Olav’s mother, Queen Maude, was the daughter of King Edward VII of Great Britain and aunt of the present monarch, George VI (and thus a clear channel to the British royal family).
Franklin Roosevelt autograph on a Typed Letter Signed on White House letterhead, Washington, July 7, 1938, to the ambassador (whom he addresses using her married name of Mrs. J. Borden Harriman). “Do you remember that when you were here I expressed to you the hope that the Crown Prince and Crown Princess of Norway would be able to visit us in this country? Apart from the pleasure it would give all of us to have them come, I think it is important from many angles that the democracies of the world keep in close personal and official touch with each other – and Norway and the United States have always had close associations. It occurs to me that the Crown Prince and Crown Princess might care to be here in 1939 during the New York World’s Fair and if they could continue to San Francisco and see the Fair there it would, I think, interest them. As you doubtless know, the small boat international races generally take place on Long Island Sound in August or early September and, as the Crown Prince is so much interested in racing, he might care to be here at that time.”
This view that peace could best be preserved through the building of a powerful international coalition was accurate, but by the time the other democracies came to see its wisdom the Second World War was on. At that point, Roosevelt’s foreign policy became to aid all nations at war with the Axis, whether democracies or not. The coalition that won the war, while not the one FDR foresaw in 1938, nonetheless led to the founding of the United Nations, which was thus another outgrowth of his policies. It also says a lot about Roosevelt and the importance he placed on the personal touch that, with a country to run and the world in crisis, he should be so aware of the tastes and likes of the Norwegian royals.
In April 1939 the Crown Prince and Princess of Norway did visit President and Mrs. Roosevelt at their family home in Hyde Park, New York and were treated to tea, a recital by local Norwegian Americans, and a picnic in the rolling countryside of the Hudson River Valley. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain were the next to visit the First Family (in June 1939), a sign that the policy of appeasement was going out of vogue. In 1940, after the German conquest of Norway, King Haakon fled to London to set up a government in exile, while Olav, his wife, and their children accepted asylum from President Roosevelt. Princess Martha and the children remained at the White House in the Rose Suite on the second floor of the family quarters for many weeks.
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