From World War to Cold War: Churchill, Roosevelt, and the International History of the 1940s

By David Reynolds | Go to book overview

8
The President and the British Left

The Appointment of John Winant as US Ambassador in 1941

Little that Franklin Roosevelt did was ever simple or straightforward. 'A man who would never tell the truth when a lie would serve him just as well,' was Douglas MacArthur's bitter epitaph.1 The President's closest associates often despaired of his deviousness. 'You won't talk frankly even with people who are loyal to you and of whose loyalty you are fully convinced,' complained Harold Ickes. 'You keep your cards close up against your belly. You never put them on the table.'2 Few of FDR's actions stemmed from a single motive. Beneath the surface bonhomie and the inspiring rhetoric lay a secretive, complex, calculating mind. Sometimes he was too clever by half, but even in failure, Roosevelt's ingenuity is a subject of enduring fascination for historians. A small but intriguing example is his choice in February 1941 of John Gilbert Winant as US Ambassador to Great Britain.

The Winant appointment is of interest for another reason. Many studies of Anglo-American diplomacy during the Second World War have concentrated on Roosevelt and Churchill. In large measure this is only right. As Churchill himself observed: 'My relations with the President gradually became so close that the chief business between our two countries was virtually conducted by these personal interchanges between him and me';3 and the rich mass of official records subsequently opened on both sides of the Atlantic has given scholars ample opportunity to document the relationship between the two leaders and

This chapter first appeared in The International History Review, 4 (1982), 393–413. Helpful
comments on a draft version were provided by John Thompson, Henry Pelling, and particularly
Garry Clifford, who kindly drew my attention to additional evidence. More recent literature of
relevance includes Kevin Jefferys, The Churchill Coalition and Wartime Politics, 1940–1945
(Manchester, 1991), and Nicholas John Cull, Selling War: The British Propaganda Campaign
against American 'Neutrality' in World War II
(Oxford, 1995).

1 William Manchester, American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur, 1880–1964 (Boston, 1978), 240.

2The Secret Diary of Harold L. Ickes (3 vols., New York, 1954), ii. 659, recording conversation
with FDR on 21 June 1939.

3 Winston S. Churchill, The Second World War (6 vols., London, 1948–54), ii. 22. For a com-
prehensive edition of their exchanges see Churchill and Roosevelt: Their Complete Correspondence,
1939–45, ed. Warren F. Kimball (3 vols., Princeton NJ, 1982).

-148-

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