Simms – President's 'chat' awaited in atmosphere of suspense (5-26-41)

The Pittsburgh Press (May 26, 1941)

William Philip Simms says –

Veteran diplomats recall no such tension and uncertainty during days which immediately preceded U.S. entry into World War I

By William Philip Simms, Scripps-Howard foreign editor

Washington, May 26 –
Not within the memory of the Capital’s oldest envoy has a presidential pronouncement been awaited, here or abroad, with greater concern than the “fireside chat” which President Roosevelt is scheduled to make from the White House tomorrow night.

The sinking of the Hood only enhances the atmosphere of suspense. Even in 1917, veteran diplomats here are saying, there was no such tension or uncertainty as now. Then President Wilson made it clear to Congress, the country and the world that there would be war of the Germans sank American vessels.

Today, what the President intends to do remains a secret from the country and the world, if not from his cabinet. Certainly, it is a secret from Congress.

Calls for aid pour in

To add to the confusion, calls for American aid continue to pour in from every quarter of the globe.

Unless the United States keeps the Atlantic open to supplies for England, Washington is told, Britain will be doomed. Unless the United States patrols the South Atlantic, Indian Ocean and Red Sea, Britain’s lifeline via Suez will be severed.

Unless the United States takes Dakar from the French, the Nazis will invade South America. Unless we occupy the Azores, Canaries and Cape Verdes, belonging to Portugal and Spain, Germany will occupy them. Ditto Martinique and Guadeloupe, in the French West Indies.

Éire going hungry

Iceland is threatened and so is Greenland, while the Irish are going hungry for lack of American ships to carry American food to Éire.

Then there are China, the Pacific and the Far East. Russia, it seems, is about to leave China in the lurch since the Moscow-Tokyo friendship pact, and unless American aid arrives soon, China may not be able to keep up the fight.

Japan would them be free to invade the East Indies and attack Singapore and if the U.S. Navy doesn’t keep the Japanese out of that area, Australia and New Zealand might be cut off and lost to their mother country.

What is the U.S. to do?

Just what is the United States to do about all this? And if she responds to such appeals, how is she to do her other chore – namely, defend the whole of the Western Hemisphere – including Canada, Central and South America?

Some administration spokesmen advocate one thing, some another. They tread on one another’s feet stepping up to the microphone to speak their contradictory pieces. Some demand convoys. Others – including the President – say convoys mean shooting and shooting means war.

Some demand repeal of cash-and-carry and a return to the old doctrine of freedom of the seas.

Navy ready for anything?

That, too, opine others, would mean shooting – blasting the sea lanes free of hostile raiders wherever American ships want to carry American munitions. And, they add, the Navy is ready for no such colossal task.

Which makes the Navy mad. High-ranking officers insist that the Navy is “ready for anything.” But even here all is not harmony. Sure the Navy is ready to lick any and all corners in the Atlantic or the Pacific, others say – off the record, of course – but not in the Atlantic and the Pacific at the same time. At least, not without great risks.

Britain’s former Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, is cited in support of this thesis. He said it took the entire U.S. Navy – “every ship of it” – in addition to the Royal Navy to clear the Atlantic of U-boats during World War I.

Roosevelt answers awaited

Today, if the Atlantic is to be made safe for British-American vessels, it is said, a large part of the Pacific Fleet would have to be transferred, and if that were done the chances are better than even that the war would spread to the Philippines and East Indies.

What therefore does the President think of all this? What does he intend to do? That is what every diplomat here is anxiously asking, some with anguish, some with fear in their hearts.

Will it be convoys? Freedom of the seas? Total national emergency? No more strikes? Armed aid to Britain and China? Including war, if necessary, or short of war?