260 Note by Mr S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in London, of Conversation with Mr H. L. Hopkins

LONDON, 29 January 1941

I had a long conversation with Hopkins. [1] He was most cordial and friendly.

I asked him how the President was standing up to the strain and expressed to him my intense admiration for the President and the work that he is doing. I particularly stressed how fortunate it appeared to me to be for the U.S.A., for the British Empire, and, in fact, the world in general that the President was in office with his wide vision at the present time.

I told Hopkins that I very much wanted to see him because I understood his task over here was to get a picture of the present position and I felt that there were possibly some angles of thought by the Dominions that he should have in mind.

I asked him if he knew Casey [2], as if he did no doubt he would be fairly familiar with the Australian point of view. His reply was that indeed he did, adding, who could miss doing so. The impression he rather left on my mind in what he said about Casey was that our Richard, in his desire to make all useful contacts, was possibly pushing the thing a little too hard.

Hopkins then talked at very considerable length with regard to his mission. He explained that he had come over to get the clearest picture he could of the position here so as to be able to give it to the President. He made it clear that his particular task was associated with the immediate needs rather than the long distance programme for the manufacturing [sic] in the U.S.A. He is convinced that the maximum assistance must be sent at once, and he said he was certainly going back to tell the President that this was so. Hopkins clearly thinks that there will be a big German effort in the near future. He stressed how very remarkable the present state of the United States opinion was. The overwhelming majority desire every possible material assistance to be given. He instanced that if the President were tomorrow to announce that he was making another 50 Destroyers available to the United Kingdom and was giving them a large number of Flying Boats, the announcement would be welcomed by public opinion.

Hopkins also said that it was now recognised in the U.S.A. that it is not men but material that we want.

He then talked about the Japanese situation and said that Stimson [3], who had never got over the feeling that Great Britain had let him down in 1931 [4], was Hull's [5] closest personal friend and saw more of him than anyone. Stimson's attitude was very hostile to Japan and he believed the only possible policy was one of being absolutely adamant in all dealings with them. He had completely convinced Hull that this was the proper course and the President was also in line with this view.

This was the reason for the concentration of the Fleet at Honolulu and for the naval and air reinforcements that had been sent to the Philippines.

Hopkins said that [?this] was dictated by the Politicians and not by the Navy.

He stressed how strong public opinion in the U.S.A. was against Japan and said quite definitely that any aggressive action by Japan in the Far East would mean war with the U.S.A.

He said, however, that he had formed the opinion that rather a different view prevailed here and that the attitude was rather it was essential to do nothing to provoke Japan. He had apparently met this atmosphere partly in the Foreign Office and partly elsewhere.

I told him I personally agreed with the American attitude, as the time had gone past when there was any hope of doing anything with Japan. I was quite sure that her position was that she would cause trouble if things went badly with us in Europe or the Middle East, and would behave if things went well. Hopkins agreed.

I said that I quite understood the atmosphere he might have encountered here with regard to Japan. I said that Winston [6], for example, was so preoccupied with the strategical problems in the European and Mediterranean parts of the world that his attitude was very much one that it was essential to keep out of trouble in the Far East. The Foreign Office atmosphere was due, I thought, in a considerable measure to a lack of clear thinking. I told him that in the past, I thought, the Far East has been mishandled. That in my view some years ago there should have been much more frankness with America on the subject, but that that unfortunately had only come when Lothian [7] went to Washington.

In the earlier years there should have been, after frank discussions, a definite decision by the U.S.A. and the United Kingdom in favour of a policy of either sorting up [sic] the Far East, or facing up to Japan. Unhappily we had done neither and the position had drifted. The U.S.A. entertaining a suspicion that Great Britain was not entirely to be relied on.

Hopkins admitted that there was something of an atmosphere of suspicion even now in the State Department, it coming from the Stimson tradition, and the feeling that Britain with her long experience in the Far East might put something over America.

I said that I thought Halifax [8] would understand the position and that he ought to be able to do something to straighten out any lingering doubts.

Hopkins was clearly not very impressed with the Ministers he had met other than Winston, and in the conversation we had we were agreed the real necessity was for someone in the War Cabinet strong enough to stand up to the Prime Minister.

Hopkins asked me as to how the Dominions point of view was expressed, and I outlined to him the present arrangements including the daily meetings and the right to see the Prime Minister or any Sub-Committee of the War Cabinet at any time.

We had some discussion on the similarity of the point of view of the Dominions and the U.S.A.

I then explained to him the Australian attitude towards the war and the difference in our outlook upon the present struggle as against the war of 1914-18.

I next raised with him the question of the position after the war, and said I felt it must be a question of vital interest to the President. His whole object since he had been in office had been to help what he described as the 'forgotten man' and to bring about reforms which were vitally necessary in the U.S.A. in the economic and industrial fields.

I expressed my admiration for what the President is trying to do.

I said, however, that all the objectives of the President would be brought to nought unless the economic and social problems that would arise after the war were properly handled. I outlined to him the thought which we had been giving to this question, and ascertained that he had some slight contact with what the United Kingdom Government has been doing.

I said that it seemed to me the closest possible co-operation between the U.S.A. and the United Kingdom was essential. I told him quite frankly that I knew what the feeling in the U.S.A. was with regard to Empire preference. I explained to him, however, that there was no need for apprehension as certainly in Australia we recognised that after the war we had to look to a general improvement in world trade rather than to any privileged position in this market.

Hopkins admitted that the President had not really given as much thought as he should have to this question, and indicated that he proposed to take it up with him.

We discussed how the necessary co-operation between the United Kingdom and the U.S.A. could be brought about, and the conclusion we came to was that the first move would be for the President to send over someone in whom he had complete confidence to keep in close touch with all that was being done here.

We were agreed that it would be disastrous if there were any misunderstandings between the U.S.A. and the United Kingdom on this question and we left the matter on the basis that Hopkins would press upon the President when he got back the desirability of sending some first class person over here.


1 President Franklin D. Roosevelt's personal representative, then on a mission to the United Kingdom. The conversation took place on 28 January.

2 Minister to the United States.

3 U.S. Secretary of War 1940-45 and Secretary of State in President Herbert Hoover's administration 1929-33.

4 Stimson had been critical of what he considered to be the U.K.

Govt's reluctance to condemn Japan's military occupation of Manchuria.

5 U.S. Secretary of State.

6 U.K. Prime Minister.

7 U.K. Ambassador to the United States 1939-40.

8 U.K. Ambassador to the United States.

[AA:M100, JANUARY 1941]