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Roosevelt’s support in 1940

LAURENCE REES: How concerned was Roosevelt, do you think, to support the British during the summer of 1940?

ROBERT DALLEK: Well, there’s no question in my mind that Roosevelt was profoundly concerned about the situation in Europe in the summer of 1940. The collapse of France sent a chill of fear through this country, and particularly disturbed Roosevelt. He saw the Nazis and Hitler as an aggressive nation that was intent on undermining democracy around the globe, and was very apprehensive that Nazism and Fascism was going to extend into Latin America which could then represent a threat to the Panama Canal and to United States national security - very close to home. So Roosevelt saw, in terms of this country’s national well-being and its future national security, the collapse of France as a terribly disturbing development.

He saw Britain as the only thing standing, now, between the United States and the Nazis, and when he makes the destroyer bases deal with Churchill in September of 1940, one of the things he wants Churchill to promise is that he will transfer the British fleet to North America, Canada, if Britain collapses on the weight of a cross-channel attack by the Germans. Now, Churchill, of course, wouldn’t go along with that and wouldn’t say a word in public because his understanding was that if you gave a hint, the slightest hint, that Britain was going to fail in facing down the Nazi threat it would be extremely demoralising to people in Great Britain. So Roosevelt backed off of that demand. But it demonstrates, I think, the extent to which Roosevelt was deeply concerned about Britain’s survival.

LAURENCE REES: So Roosevelt thought in the summer of 1940 that Britain might lose the war, and he was worried about giving any aid out because he thought, well, it’s just going to go straight to the Germans?

ROBERT DALLEK: Well, they were startled by how quickly France collapsed. Forever thereafter Roosevelt was very antagonistic to De Gaulle and to the French, and he did not want to see France re-emerge as a significant power after World War Two because he thought that they had failed, and as they had surrendered they did not deserve a place at the peace table. So he’s very much startled by the success of German arms and the retreat from Dunkirk by the British, and he is very worried that Britain may not be able to survive standing alone against this new massive Nazi army and German power. And, of course, the Russians had made an agreement with the Nazis that they’re not going to cause any trouble on Germany’s eastern front. So there’s a lot of apprehension.