The Outbreak of the Second World War: Design or Blunder?

By John L. Snell | Go to book overview

ROOSEVELT REBUKED

CHARLES CALLAN TANSILL

Before 1952, Charles Callan Tansill was best known as author of a study of American involvement in the First World War, America Goes to War ( 1938). Like other "isolationists" of the 1930's Tansill insisted that President Woodrow Wilson needlessly led the United States into war in 1917. In Back Door to War ( 1952), Tansill--professor of history at Georgetown University--pressed a similar interpretation: that President Franklin D. Roosevelt, determined to take the United States into the war against Germany in Europe, used events in the Pacific (the "Back Door to War" in Europe) in order to shake the American people out of their contentment with neutrality. Tansill also argued that Roosevelt, deliberately and without provocation by Hitler, was hostile toward Nazi Germany from 1933 until 1939; when war came, Roosevelt's policy had helped to cause it. This reading gives the essence of Tansill's argument: that Roosevelt stiffened the resistance of the British, French, and Poles against Hitler's demands in 1939. The argument is in diametrical opposition to the Soviet contention that the United States encouraged Hitler's Germany in aggression against the Soviet Union. But Tansill's interpretation has one thing in common with the Soviet view: both present scathing condemnations of American policy in the diplomacy of the 1930's.

IN London, Lord Halifax [early in September, 1939] confided to Ambassador Kennedy that the outbreak of war

reminded him of a dream he once had in which he was being tried for murder. When he was finally convicted and found guilty he was surprised what a feeling of relief came over him. It was very much the same now; he had planned in all ways to keep away a World War and had worked himself into a sad state of health and now that he had failed he found himself freshened up for the new struggle. . . .

It became more and more apparent to one as Halifax talked . . . that what Britain depends on more than anything else to end the war before the world collapses, is the internal collapse inside of Germany. They had definite confidence in their secret service reports that the oil and gasoline supply is definitely not over four months and that there is a definite feeling in Germany against war and if it got too tough economically, Hitler would be out.

The reports of British intelligence experts were as inaccurate in military matters as they were with reference to gas and oil supplies in the Reich. General Ironside informed the British Cabinet, on the basis of a series of reports, that German strategy was based upon a quick campaign. Some of the terrain leading into Polish territory was quite rugged. If the Poles made it "tough" for the invading Germans "so that it required a couple of months to make any headway," Hitler's "hordes would have great difficulty in retreating or advancing."

The American military attaché in Berlin was equally optimistic with regard to checking the progress of the German mili

____________________
From Charles Callan Tansill, Back Door to War: The Roosevelt Foreign Policy, 1933- 1941 ( Chicago, 1952), pp. 554-557. Reprinted by permission of Henry Regnery Company.

-36-

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