341 Mr R. G. Casey, Minister to the United States, to Mr J. McEwen, Minister for External Affairs

Memorandum WASHINGTON, 5 June 1940 [1]


It is necessary to put down the background of affairs of the last week or so in order to knit together the cables that I have sent to Australia and repeated to SMB. [2]

For the first two or three days of the invasion of Holland and Belgium, I experienced a feeling of depression and foreboding, but this passed, and after that I spent a fair proportion of my time in putting heart into people-Allied and neutral.

It needs all the self-command one possesses not to be bitter and recriminatory towards this country-but one has, at any cost, to put this out of one's mind.

I had arranged, a month or so in advance, a trip to Chicago, Madison, Milwaukee and Minneapolis for the period 21st-29th May, and many speaking and other engagements had been arranged. As the time approached, I feared that I would have to cancel the whole trip. I consulted the British Consul-General at Chicago [3], Mr.

Adolf Berle [4], and others-and I was advised by them all to carry on with the arrangements if it was humanly possible. No one from our side had been in the northern middle west for a long time and it was thought necessary to show the flag and to say one's say- besides the necessity of avoiding breaking faith when large numbers of invitations had been issued. I was assured that, even in the circumstances relating to the invasion of Holland and Belgium, cancellation of arrangements would be misunderstood or much resented. So that, with some reluctance, I carried through with the trip, although cutting down to the extent of cancelling the arrangements for 21st and 22nd May. I left Washington on the early morning of 23rd May-and went through with the trip until the morning of Monday, 27th, when by reason of cables that had come to me at Washington [5] I decided to cancel the trip to Minneapolis and return at once to Washington, where I arrived on Tuesday, 28th May, at lunchtime.

The above Chicago-Madison-Milwaukee trip was, I believe, quite useful. I spoke publicly six times and broadcast once-and have received a great many letters etc. since-besides getting good press publicity. I also met the leading people in Chicago etc.

under good circumstances.

I saw the President in the early afternoon of Tuesday, 28th May.

[6] He had been away from Washington from Sunday evening until Monday evening. On Sunday afternoon the 26th, he was completely absorbed in putting together his nation-wide broadcast and was not available to anyone. An interview with the President tends to be a monologue. It is not easy to get an opportunity to express oneself. You have to hop in while he's pausing for breath. In any event, on the 28th May he was prepared to speak freely on the subject on which I had called to talk to him. What he had to say was unpleasant to hear, but it was definite and to the point. I did not, at the time, appreciate the significance of what he had to say about the urgent importance of the preservation of the British Navy at all costs.

On Wednesday morning (29th) and Thursday morning (30th), I received long cables from SMB about the European situation. [7] I discussed the situation with Lothian [8] on each morning-and sought and had an important talk to Sumner Welles, after seeing Lothian and the Service Attaches, at noon on Thursday 30th. The last paragraph of Bruce's cable No. 365 suggested to me the line that I should take ('self interest').

My talk with Sumner Welles was reported on May 30th, in my cable No. 106 to Canberra and my No. 29 to London. [9]

It had not been possible, before this, to speak in such terms to any senior member of the U.S. Administration. Indeed I have been at a loss to know what attitude to take. They are apparently quite unmoved (or perhaps it is more correct to say that they steadily refuse to take any action designed to awaken the American people to the grim prospects ahead) at the prospect of France and then Britain being over-run. One can almost hear them say to themselves-'Well, well, fancy Britain going down-too bad.' The President is the only person who could set American public opinion on fire-and he apparently won't do it. His broadcast speech on Sunday evening (26th May) was flat and full of domestic politics-and given at a time, in fact at the exact moment, when he might have given a high lead to the country.

'Self interest' is the only lever-and it was not clear to me (or to Lothian) until Thursday morning (30th) how to arouse this motive. I believe the facts to be that America can stand idly by and see Britain and France battered to death-('Just too bad')-and not move a finger to help. But when it is suggested that the British fleet will fight to the last, they cry-'Oh! but that is illogical-you should send the British fleet over to America. Let them put up a reasonable sort of a fight if you like-but save the fleet at all costs-as we need it to save ourselves having to declare war.' They realize that it has been the British fleet that has, in reality, been protecting them all for years, and that if the British fleet were to disappear, they'd have to set about defending themselves-which is unthinkable. They might even have to stand up to the German and Italian fleets-or what would be left of them. They might even be asked by the South American Republics how they proposed to see that the Monroe Doctrine was maintained.

What, in fact, might be decided in respect of the British fleet is another matter.

I impress on everyone in sight that it is essential, in our own interests, not to show any bitterness. One's mind has to accept the fact that the reality that has to be faced is American public opinion. It is moving-even though the speed of movement is, to us, most irritatingly slow.

I am sure that my telegram No. 107 to Australia (No. 31 to London) [10] is the path of wisdom. It was put together after long discussion with Earl Newsom [11] whom I had asked to come to Washington from New York. He very kindly did so and we had a most useful talk.

I believe that no one other than Americans can say or do anything that is going appreciably to speed things up-and an incautious word (or even what might be interpreted as going an inch too far) might get wide and devastating publicity.

However, I have gone so far in my recent public talks that actually very little is left to the imagination.

There are, to my mind, only two Americans who can help-the President and Sumner Welles.

I have given a lot of thought to what I can usefully say publicly since I have been in this country. I have consulted selected Americans who are well disposed and who have political sense.

There is a great deal that I can say-and I have been saying it in public speeches and in my N.B.C. broadcast. There is, however, a limit beyond which one must not go. An inch over the limit and one runs the risk of being 'written down' by some ill-disposed columnist with a big following. I can ten them the point of view of Australia about the war, and what we believe is behind the war- but I must be extremely careful not to lay myself open to the charge that I am telling the American people publicly what to do and advocating their active intervention in the war. I have observed the above rules in my talks to:- National Press Club (Washington), University Club (New York), Economic Club (New York), English-Speaking Union (Washington), Overseas Writers (Washington), International House (Chicago), Women's Press Club (Washington), American Society International Law (Washington), English-Speaking Union (Chicago), Daughters of British Empire (Chicago), English-Speaking Union (Milwaukee) and National Broadcasting Company broadcast.

As time has gone on, and as events in Europe have become more serious, the limits to what I can say have progressively advanced.

Even after taking the politics of the situation into account, I can find no adequate explanation of why the President does not tell the country the truth. By 'the truth' I mean the following:-

'The security of the Americas-indeed even of North America- necessitates two fleets. Up to the present this has been achieved by the American fleet plus the fact that Great Britain has been historically sympathetic to the Americas being kept free of European incursions-so that the existence of the British fleet has in effect provided the necessary additional sea-power to supplement the U.S. Navy.

In today's situation, France and Britain-and so the British fleet- is gravely menaced. Apart from the broader issue that democracy throughout the world is, in consequence, menaced-it means, to the Americas, that their security, their ability to deny their shores to invaders from East and West-is also gravely menaced.

So, whether we like it or not, Britain's fight is our fight-and Time is the factor of real importance. Help given now is worth ten times the amount given later. It is just possible to save democracy-and Britain and her fleet-now. It may, before long, not be possible to do so.' Why can't the above be said? Would it lose the election? Anyhow, if it is not said, the war may be lost before the election-and then what does the election matter? It may be that the President realizes that, even if they intervened in the war, they have no fighting services to fight with-outside the Navy that is virtually stuck in the Pacific.

However, the moral force and prestige of the U.S.A. is great-and this would influence Italy (or might have done, had it been exerted in time) and hearten Britain and France. And they could send a few Divisions, a few dozen destroyers, a fair tonnage of merchant shipping, a few squadrons of aircraft, and could help with equipment far faster than they are now doing as neutrals.

If one may give oneself the luxury of a moment's retrospect-to think of the evil influence of Borah on the history of the world.

Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee-and had refused resolutely ever to go out of the United States. Definitely one of a small group who will have to bear the grave responsibility for the lives of millions of men. Just one small instance-if the neutrality legislation had been amended in June 1939 instead of in October 1939-is it not possible that the war would not have come about? possibly yes-or no. Such a move was beaten in the Senate by one vote. Small-minded, provincial, without any conception of the issues involved or their implications for the future of mankind-or even the United States-it looks as if Borah was one of the really evil influences of the times. He was most important because the people of the United States believed in him-just as the people of Britain believed in Baldwin! [12]

1 This memorandum was accompanied by a covering note from Casey to McEwen dated 4 June 1940 (on file AA: A981, USA 78, v). Minutes on the note indicate that the memorandum was forwarded to the Secretary of the External Affairs Dept, Lt Col W. R. Hodgson, by McEwen's Private Secretary, J. V. Moroney, on 14 October 1940.

Hodgson in turn forwarded it to Frank Strahan, Secretary of the Prime Minister's Dept, on 15 October 1940 with the minute 'I think the Prime Minister would find these Notes of much interest'. It was seen by Menzies on 24 October.

2 S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in London.

3 L. E. Bernays.

4 U.S. Assistant Secretary of State.

5 Documents 280, 287, 260 and 283.

6 See Document 300.

7 Documents 308 and 309. If the time of dispatch recorded on cablegram 365 is correct Casey must have received it on the evening and not the morning of 29 June.

8 U.K. Ambassador to the United States.

9 Document 319.

10 Document 328.

11 A New York public relations consultant.

12 U.K. Prime Minister 1923-24, 1924-29 and 1935-37.

[AA: A981, USA 78, v]