Before dealing with specifics in this post, I would observe that The Memoirs of Cordell Hull do not (so far) offer significant insights into Franklin D. Roosevelt.
I have now read to page 1105, and I have found that Hull mainly mentions FDR only in relation to Hull’s actions or statements to Roosevelt, for example, noting that FDR wrote “OK” on a memorandum or other paper that Hull had submitted to him. Hull does not comment on or characterize further his interactions with FDR.
The closest to a characterization that I have noticed appeared recently in the memoirs, when Hull describes FDR’s voice as steady but clipped when telling Hull of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
This is disappointing because my main aim in the reading that I have done and plan to do is to learn more about FDR’s thinking as he led the nation during wartime.
This distance between Hull and Roosevelt, however, suggests that FDR tended to act as his own secretary of state and wanted to run foreign policy out of the White House rather than always through the State Department. In this he was similar to other presidents.
Hull does comment on this by noting, in the space of one page, that FDR did not invite him to attend the Casablanca, Cairo and Tehran conferences. Hull claims that these were conferences on military matters and, therefore, did not involve him. Those conferences, however, have been the subject of many diplomatic historians’ study and certainly involved matters beyond the strictly military. It seems as if Hull was interpreting FDR’s reasons for not including him, rather than sincerely believing those reasons himself.
Hull also notes that he was not told about the atomic bomb. He points out, however, that Roosevelt would inform him about other secret matters and the results of conferences if Hull asked FDR about them.
Since the previous post, Hull has spent much of his time in discussions with the Japanese ambassadors, Nomura and Kurusu. While they continue to say that the Japanese government wants to seek peace with the United States, they also are under pressure to negotiate an agreement by the end of November 1941. Hull knew of this pressure from the messages that U.S. military intelligence was intercepting and decoding. He suspected that the deadline was tied to Japanese plans for a military strike, possibly in several locations.
On November 20 the ambassadors handed Hull an ultimatum that would have assured Japanese domination in the Pacific. Hull in turn worked on a modus vivendi, a proposal that would be satisfactory enough to both sides to allow time to work out a more lasting agreement.
During this time, Hull gives one example of responding to criticism through his memoirs: In a November 25 meeting of cabinet members and military leaders who formed a war council, Hull warned that the Japanese might at any time begin pursuing conquest by force. He stated that “safeguarding our national security lies in the hands of the Army and Navy.” Hull disputes that in saying this he was “washing his hands” of the matter, as some apparently attributed to him. He goes on to say that he would continue working for peace as long as chance remained to achieve it.
Hull continues with details of his talks with Nomura and Kurusu until the attack on December 7. Hull is careful to note that he did not actually “cuss out” Nomura when he met with him after learning of the attack. He did rebuke Nomura strongly, though.
As expected, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States several days later.