Today I finished volume 1 of The Memoirs of Cordell Hull, all 916 pages of it. That is more than 170 pages since my previous post, so I will need to summarize a few high points.
Nazi Germany invaded and conquered Denmark and Norway. Beginning on May 10, 1940, Germany began the invasion and conquest of Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and France. Italy followed Germany by invading France. Great Britain then stood alone in Europe in opposition to Hitler. Hull devoted considerable time to fending off the threat of growing German influence in the Western Hemisphere.
The United States had to respond to the Nazi invasion of Denmark because Denmark controlled Iceland and Greenland. Both of those countries were at least partly in the Western Hemisphere and thus fell within the provisions of the Monroe Doctrine. Iceland took action to establish direct diplomatic relations with the United States.
Greenland is definitely in the Western Hemisphere, so Hull believed that the United States should take action to prevent Germany from taking over. He was careful, however, to avoid establishing a U.S. protectorate over Greenland because he did not want to set a precedent that Japan or other nations might use to take over possessions of conquered European nations.
Once France fell and sought an armistice with Germany, Hull was concerned with keeping the French fleet and overseas possessions out of German hands.
With Britain alone facing the Nazi threat, the United States began finding ways to supply Britain with the means to fight on. This included the famous 1940 swap of aging U.S. destroyers for 99-year leases on bases in British Western Hemisphere possessions. Hull recounts this arrangement in some detail.
Hull also tells of the United States’ firm policy toward Vichy France. The U.S. maintained relations with Vichy but objected to its policy of currying favor with Hitler.
In one of the few lengthy discussions of domestic politics, Hull covers his involvement in FDR’s decision to seek a third term as president. Hull notes that he discouraged moves by some who proposed that he succeed FDR in 1940. He also points out that FDR repeatedly assured him that he was Roosevelt’s choice as a successor.
I also noticed that Hull points out that he was not favored by some in the “New Deal group.” At several earlier points, Hull had indicated that he did not share the views of those he considered New Dealers.
With Roosevelt re-elected, U.S. aid to Great Britain increased. Britain, however, was running rapidly out of cash to purchase U.S. armaments and supplies. Thus evolved the concept of Lend-Lease, which the State and Treasury departments developed. FDR explained Lend-Lease using the metaphor of a man lending a neighbor a garden hose when the neighbor’s house is on fire. Roosevelt later gave a Fireside Chat, on December 29, 1940, calling for the United States to become “the great arsenal of democracy.”
Hull then turns to relations with Japan and that nation’s ambition to take advantage of European nations’ conquest by Hitler. Japan appeared eager to move into the Netherlands East Indies (what is now Indonesia) and French Indochina. Hull devoted considerable diplomatic effort to resisting these plans. He credits United States policy toward Japan with giving the U.S. more than a year of peace in the Pacific, time that was used to continue increasing aid to Britain and to prepare the U.S. defenses.