760F.62/723: Telegram

The Ambassador in the United Kingdom ( Kennedy ) to the Secretary of State

893. My 891, September 9, 10 p.m. I saw Halifax and Cadogan separately. Halifax says the message was prepared last night, not to be delivered to Hitler but to Ribbentrop, saying that the English had practically decided to go if the French went. After the message had gone with this statement they received word that Henderson was in conference with Hitler so they tried to send word to Henderson to hold up any action on their message temporarily until they had to [the] result of the conversation with Hitler. They finally got Henderson on the telephone last night and found that he had not seen Hitler but he urged them most strongly not to insist on his delivering the message. They don’t know what his point of view is but he has sent a messenger with his point of view to Cologne. The British have sent a plane to Cologne to meet the messenger and expect the plane back in London about 4 o’clock this afternoon, and Halifax will communicate with me immediately after he and the Prime Minister have this information.

Their secret information is that Hitler is prepared to march and with that in mind they took preliminary steps yesterday with the Admiralty. They are still of the opinion that there are three alternatives for Hitler: (1) to stir up trouble in the Sudeten area and march in to put down bloodshed, (2) call for a plebiscite and in that way try to get public opinion on his side, and (3) to march and bomb Praha. They all reiterate that if they were doing business with a normal man they would have some idea of what might happen but that they are doing business with a mad man.

They are advised by their confidential sources that Hitler cannot stand out very long; that the generals are a little bit disturbed at the regime. Their secret advices are that Hitler has reached his decision and that he has made up his mind this is as good a time as any to strike.

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Halifax and Cadogan think their advices are more than likely correct.

Halifax asked again what would be America’s reaction. I said I had not the slightest idea; except that we want to keep out of war. He then asked me why I thought Great Britain should be the defender of the ideals and morals of the democracies rather than the United States—not in a nasty way, but merely for the sake of argument—and I told him that they had made the Czechoslovak incident part of their business, their allies were connected with the whole affair, and our people just failed to see where we should be involved. Cadogan later said he was in complete sympathy with this opinion and wished in heaven’s name they could maintain it.

Halifax said the French had advised him they felt they could make trouble for the Germans on the Siegfried Line but felt that the French were not at all convinced the Germans were as invincible as they sounded.

My own observation this morning is that the British are, much against their will, veering away from the stand of keeping out; that unless Henderson’s opinion is very strong and he has very good arguments, they are inclined to hand the Germans a stiff note. Halifax said of course there cannot be any good in a war except that a short one might mean the end of this impossible Nazism which, unless destroyed will very likely make it impossible for democracies to live. I asked him how the Prime Minister felt and he said the Prime Minister said last night as he went out, “this really is not as much fan as shooting grouse”. So they are quite calm but I feel they sense great danger in the air. Cadogan later told me it is quite possible that nothing terribly important may be said by Hitler at Nuremberg and the meeting may pass off quietly but they do not believe that this is the end by any manner of means.

In reporting these bulletins daily it is difficult to be entirely consistent as with shifting events and protests the topside people are changing their minds as to procedure every few hours. We are staying here all day and as soon as I hear from Halifax again I will send you another message.