The Gathering Storm: Britain's American Propaganda Policy, 1937 to 1939
We must act and state our case in such a way as to retain American sympathy at all times.
Robert Vansittart, December 19361
By January 1937, Britain faced its worst international crisis since the end of World War I. The trouble had begun six years before, when the Japanese army seized Manchuria. Now the threat of further Japanese expansion into China had been augmented by growing instability in Europe. While the League of Nations fumbled with the Abyssinian crisis, Mussolini had drifted toward an alignment with the new menace of Hitler's Germany. Then, in March 1936, the German army marched into the Rhineland, shattering the foundations of the postwar European peace. With the Spanish Civil War beckoning the dictators to intervene, further conflict seemed inevitable. In London, the Conservative government of Stanley Baldwin responded with full- scale rearmament but was fully conscious that Britain could not muster a credible deterrent before 1939 at the earliest. The French begged Britain to make a commitment to uphold the European order; but the British, wary of stretching their reduced naval strength across three possible theaters of war, felt unable to act without a guarantee of American support. By 1937, the British had good reason to fear that this support would never be offered.
In 1935, American foreign policy had taken on a fresh certainty: strict neutrality was mandated by a set of newly passed Neutrality Acts. During 1936, these laws had been tightened to prevent all trade with belligerent powers. Britain watched these developments with horror. Writing on December 31, 1936, in his end-of-year review, the Permanent Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Sir Robert