Selling War: The British Propaganda Campaign against American "Neutrality" in World War II

By Nicholas John Cull | Go to book overview

Introduction

On February 15, 1942, Winston Churchill broadcast an address to the world. Still flushed with the news of Pearl Harbor and fresh from a visit to Washington, he gloried in the United States' entry into World War II as an event that he had "dreamed of, aimed at, and worked for." The admission was unfortunate. The British ambassador to Washington, Lord Halifax, immediately warned that the words worked for were "troublesome" to American ears, giving "the idea that a simple innocent people have been caught asleep by others cleverer than themselves." This was no way to begin the Anglo-American partnership. 1 But as both men knew well, Churchill had spoken the truth. That "work" is the subject of this book.

From the eve of the German invasion of Poland to the moment of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, the British government mounted a concerted effort to draw the United States into the war. This work was by no means limited to regular diplomacy. Bitter experience had taught the British that the White House could only be as useful to their interests as the Congress, the press, and public opinion would allow it to be. Seeing that popular isolationism blocked the way to American aid, the British inaugurated a new public relations policy in the United States; by 1941, they had established a sizable propaganda machine on both sides of the Atlantic. The full scale and impact of this activity has never been revealed. The campaign soon sank from view, obscured by British diffidence and the spectacular activities of the Japanese on the morning of December 7, 1941.

During the period of Britain's campaign, American public opinion clearly changed. American foreign policy on the eve of Pearl Harbor stood in radical contrast to the knee-jerk isolationism of the 1930s. In 1935, most Americans were isolationists; indeed, given the course of American history, any other policy would have been surprising. But by 1941, this same public was ready to risk war to aid the Allies and was quite unprepared to allow Germany to dominate the world. Roosevelt directed American foreign policy accordingly. 2

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