To Keep the British Isles Afloat: Fdr's Men in Churchill's London, 1941

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2009-01-01
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publications
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An inside look at the work and adventures of Harry Hopkins and Averell Harriman in the creation of history's most remarkable international partnershipAfter the fall of France in June 1940, London became the center of world political theater. For the U.S. president, the vital question was: could Britain, with American help, hold out against the might of Nazi Germany? While keeping the United States officially neutral, Franklin D. Roosevelt devised an unprecedented strategy, leading to the revolutionary idea of lend-lease. But was Winston Churchill-famous as a speechmaker but regarded by many as a reckless politician and possibly a drunk-a good bet? To find the answer, Roosevelt dispatched his closest associate, Harry Hopkins, to Britain on a mission. Hopkins's endorsement of Churchill put an end to FDR's doubts, and with the passage of the Lend-Lease Act the president sent Averell Harriman, a wealthy financier and entrepreneur, to London "to keep the British Isles afloat." For Harriman, the assignment turned out to be the great adventure of a remarkable life.Filled with vivid details and great storytelling, To Keep the British Isles Afloat explores the still-misunderstood beginnings of the unique Anglo-American alliance in World War II, offering an intriguing new look at Roosevelt's thinking and a fresh perspective on the relationship between the president and the prime minister.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
Prologue: Crisis, 1940p. 1
Money Fliesp. 7
Friendshipsp. 20
"Brilliance and Glitter"p. 32
Dark Autumnp. 44
Terror in the Airp. 56
The Cause of Solidarityp. 67
"Send for Harry!"p. 78
Decidedly Unneutral Actsp. 90
The Political Calculating Machinep. 107
"Reposing Special Faith and Confidence"p. 117
"A Smiling Gentleman"p. 129
"The Perfection of Human Society"p. 144
"Whither Thou Goest"p. 157
"The All-Seeing Eye"p. 171
"A New Magna Charta"p. 187
"By Temperament, Training and Experience"p. 200
Linking Upp. 214
"In a Nightmare"p. 225
At the Dorchesterp. 235
On His Majesty's Servicep. 245
The Colossus Factorp. 254
Postludep. 271
Notesp. 277
Bibliographyp. 303
Acknowledgmentsp. 313
Indexp. 315
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.


To Keep the British Isles Afloat
FDR’s Men in Churchill’s London, 1941

Chapter One

Money Flies

Franklin D. Roosevelt possessed a temperament that had always allowed him to enjoy a laugh—a golden trait with which to meet "one of the darkest moments in American life," as a commentator of the day characterized the spring of 1933, three-and-a-half years after the Wall Street crash had turned into the Great Depression. When FDR took the oath as president on March 4, "the banking system was in collapse, agriculture was prostrate, factories were chill and smokeless, fourteen million workers were unemployed."

In their fright and paralysis the people had turned to Roosevelt, and the new president, as he had promised during his campaign, set out to create a "New Deal" for the American people, launching, in concert with Congress, a series of vigorous attacks on the Depression; this inaugural period of intense activity would be known as the First Hundred Days. Just a few of these days after his inauguration, in the minutes before going on the air in his first radio "fireside chat"—the first presidential speech ever addressed directly to the public rather than to an audience physically present—Roosevelt impressed a broadcast reporter by his "cheerfulness and wit and tremendous love of banter."

Some of the New Deal programs took forms new to American policy, since the traditional methods and limited innovations employed by FDR's predecessor, Herbert Hoover, the celebrated humanitarian and "great engineer," had singularly failed to stop the downward business spiral. Though Roosevelt did not come into office with any certified remedies for a sick economy, he brought with him a willingness to cast aside failed formulas and engage in experiments, even if some of them actually contradicted each other. After making basic efforts aimed at the foundations of the economy, industry and agriculture, the administration turned to the situation of the millions of unemployed workers. Previously in the deeply conservative United States, questions relating to employment and relief had been considered primarily local problems to be solved by local people, with the help of an occasional few dollars sent over from the state capital, and by a large dependence on voluntary agencies and private philanthropy, with no involvement on the part of Washington. President Hoover subscribed to these principles, though in a period of drought he departed from them far enough to make funds available to farmers for feeding livestock, a gesture that led a congressman to charge the president with favoring "jackasses" over starving babies.

Two years earlier, as governor of New York, Roosevelt had struck out on his own, challenging the prevailing social and fiscal orthodoxy by declaring to his legislature that it was "time for the State itself" to respond to the widespread suffering through providing direct help to the jobless—"not as a matter of charity, but as a matter of social duty." In response, the governor received funding to set up a new kind of state agency, the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration; to chair his creation he chose Jesse Straus, a prominent philanthropist and president of Macy's department store. The agency would need, under Straus, a director who would actually manage the operation—a capable executive with relevant experience who, at the same time, would not shy from running all the risks involved in taking on a strikingly unpromising job. Roosevelt's and Straus's first choice for the position, though declining what insiders regarded as at best a career-threatening honor, was a friend and colleague who just might be willing to take up the challenge. Roosevelt even went so far on his own as to telephone the friend to ask him directly; Harry Hopkins responded instantly: "I would love it." The appointment quickly followed.

A quarter of a century earlier, as a gangling, long-jawed youngster in the Congregationalist-Methodist-flavored town of Grinnell, Iowa, Harry Hopkins had acquired something of a reputation as a hell-raiser; this boy, some of the local people decided, would never amount to much. But others were not so sure. Aside from the time he spent in hot water, they said, Harry was a good lad, and anyone could see how bright he was. He also gave the high school, and the town, a striking if blatantly irregular demonstration of political skill and determination. Rebelling against the teachers who fixed class elections to favor the best students, Harry organized an effort to stuff the ballot box on behalf of one Sam O'Brien, a presidential candidate whose good points did not include much in the way of academic achievement. Though Sam won this particular election, the teachers, realizing the tainted nature of his victory, reacted by refusing to accept it and instead set up a new vote. In turn, Hopkins responded by mounting a vigorous campaign on behalf of O'Brien; in the second balloting, this time honest on both sides, Sam won again, and with a bigger margin than he had received earlier.

Harry's reputation as a talented politician followed him into Grinnell College, where he immediately became prominent, winning election—honestly, it appears—as the freshman representative on the student council; moving up from class to class, he remained on the council throughout his college career. He also, as a freshman, was taken into The Institute, a society normally open only to upperclassmen. But more striking evidence of the popularity his "restless, electric personality" won him and of the respect with which he was regarded—and also of his readiness to look at situations in his own idiosyncratic way—came from his role in one of the annual freshman–sophomore battles. This particular epic struggle rose to a crescendo when the freshmen, having besieged the sophomores in a barn, dropped potent stink bombs through a hole in the roof. An unpleasant tactic of this magnitude brought tight-lipped intervention by the dean ("unworthy of Grinnell's traditions of sportsmanship and fair play"), with consequent penalties for all concerned—except Harry Hopkins. Neither the freshmen nor the sophomores nor anyone else had any idea that Harry had served as chief strategist for both sides.

To Keep the British Isles Afloat
FDR’s Men in Churchill’s London, 1941
. Copyright © by Thomas Parrish. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from To Keep the British Isles Afloat: FDR's Men in Churchill's London 1941 by Thomas Parrish
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