Roosevelt calls Congressmen; important development hinted (9-10-41)

The Pittsburgh Press (September 10, 1941)

President rushes to capital to see cabinet advisers

Ship incidents believed bringing nation closer to war, or at least to policy change

By Lyle C. Wilson, United Press staff writer

Washington, Sept. 10 –
The House of Representatives today was summoned back a week early from its semi-recess and legislative leaders were asked to meet with President Roosevelt tomorrow morning at the White House in a conference which suggested an important development in the international scene.

Simultaneous with this disclosure, it was announced aboard President Roosevelt’s train which is bringing the Chief Executive back to the capital from his Hyde Park, NY, home, that Mr. Roosevelt will also see three key cabinet advisers tomorrow morning.

These conferences are preliminary to the President’s eagerly awaited speech which he will deliver over the radio at 10 o’clock tomorrow night.

The request for the early assembly of the House was made by Speaker Sam Rayburn and was transmitted here to Speaker pro tempore Clifton Woodrum. Mr. Rayburn is in Texas. In his message, Mr. Rayburn asked that all members meet on Monday instead of Sept. 22, the date previously agreed upon as the earliest at which controversial business would be taken up. Mr. Woodrum said that the request for early assembly did not reveal the nature of business to be transacted nor did Mr. Woodrum have any information on the nature of the White House conference tomorrow morning.

Danger scene shifts

While the capital made ready for a day of intense activity tomorrow, responsible officials said that the war menace to this country had shifted again from the Pacific to the Atlantic and there was a suggestion that Germany may be following a pattern of unrestricted warfare against ocean shipping.

Senator Walter F. George (D-GA), who has just relinquished chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee, declared:

The danger of American involvement in the war has shifted back into the Atlantic.

One cannot escape the conclusion that incidents piling up bring the United States closer to war or at least to a definite decision on foreign policy.

Senator James E. Murray (D-MT) said it:

…looks as if Hitler is going into the unrestricted sinking policy.

Jap tension eases

He seems to be seeking to create an incident which might involve us in war. Just how that would benefit him, I cannot see.

Mr. George and some other well-informed persons here believe that Japanese-American tension is easing by force or circumstances, largely because of the wholly unexpected sturdiness of the Soviet Union’s resistance to German invaders.

Mr. George continued:

The Japanese will mark time in my opinion until the Russian campaign is settled. I do not believe that under present conditions they will wish to invoke the hostility of power interests in the Pacific. Russian resistance has surpassed the expectations of our military experts. They did not believe they could hold out this long or inflict so much damage on German attackers.

Official and business quarters in Tokyo had high hopes that an agreement between the United States and Japan was near. It was known definitely that negotiations have been carried out in greatest secrecy for the last seven days. A statement by Premier Prince Fumimaro Konoe was awaited to clarify the situation.

Secretary of State Cordell Hull said at a press conference this afternoon that he had no information concerning the reported agreement between the United States and Japan. Mr. Hull indicated that Japanese-American relations have undergone unimportant changes in the last several days.

Last week’s unsuccessful submarine attack on the U.S. destroyer Greer, the sinking on Aug. 17 of the Panamanian ship Sessa – both southwest of Iceland – and the destruction in the Red Sea last Friday by aerial bomb of the American freighter Steel Seafarer persuaded some persons closely associated with shipping that Germany was following a pattern suggesting an unrestricted submarine campaign.

United Press dispatches from the Near East reported that the attack on the Steel Seafarer had been deliberate and despite bright illumination of ship and flag which would have made mistaken identity practically impossible.

German reaction, that the United States “need not be surprised” if ships with Lend-Lease cargoes for British Near Eastern forces are sunk in the Red Sea, indicated that the 25 or so vessels now engaged in that trade under the American flag must be considered in jeopardy.

No lives were lost abroad the Steel Seafarer, but 24 men, including one American, were lost from the crew of 27 aboard the Panamanian ship Sessa.

Current but unconfirmed was a report that the British expedition against Spitsbergen, the Norwegian island lying far north of the Arctic Circle, may have had more objectives than merely to render coal mines unavailable to German exploitation. Some persons suggested that the British raid might be a forerunner to some movement designed to clear the area for another revision of United States combat zones.

Ther combat zone proclaimed by Mr. Roosevelt, which closed to American merchant vessels all European ports except those in Portugal and a few Atlantic ports in Spain, extends far north of the continent to Spitsbergen, The zone cuts off from the Atlantic all Soviet ports on the White Sea. It was suggested here that further clearing of the area might enable an adjustment of the northern part of that combat zone to permit American freighters to carry war supplies directly to Soviet ports on the White Sea, including Arkhangelsk. It is understood that some supplies in non-American flag ships are already en route to northern Russian ports.

The swift movement of events in the last week is creating an almost theatrical opportunity for President Roosevelt to address the world tomorrow night. He scheduled his broadcast suddenly after news that the Greer and a submarine (later identified as German) had exchanged shots in American waters southwest of Iceland.

There was a scattering of talk that incidents such as those involving the Sessa and the Steel Seafarer would lead to an effort to repeal the Neutrality Act restrictions which forbid American flag vessels to enter combat zones. Chairman Sol Bloom (D-NY) of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said:

Repeal would untie our hands and give us our traditional free seas doctrines.

But there was no indication that Mr. Roosevelt had given a go-ahead for such an effort nor that the administration immediately would precipitate the Congressional dispute which such a proposal would arouse.