740.001 European War 1939/398: Telegram

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

1708. Personal for the President and Secretary of State. I have just been down to see the Prime Minister. He has a very bad cold. I naturally asked him what he made of the Russian situation. He said of course it was bad but that he was not prepared yet to believe that it meant a straight military alliance with Germany. He said that Russia had assured both England and France that they were maintaining neutrality in regard to both of these countries, but Chamberlain said, “Of course I would not believe anything the Russians told me and the only satisfaction I have is that they will lie to the Germans as well as to us.” He said, “I do not think they believe their advantage in this whole picture necessitates their getting into a war on either side; they will take whatever they can get without any inconvenience to themselves, but as far as joining up is concerned, I am still unconvinced.”

Chamberlain said that Hitler’s program as he sees it has three alternatives: (1) to keep going right into Rumania where he will be offered very little if any resistance. He has hopes that if Hitler decided to go into Rumania it might kick up quite a fuss in the Balkans and that Italy might find that an excuse for lining up on England’s side. I asked him if he did not believe that the psychological trend was definitely against England at this time and that countries on the sidelines who would want to play with the victor might decide to come along with Germany, and if that were the case, how about Italy? He said that he [Page 440] was thoroughly convinced the people of Italy did not want to go to war and they would almost have to be driven to fight in a war on the side of Germany; (2) that Hitler will immediately proceed against the western front and it would not surprise Chamberlain at all if Hitler first attempted to smash through Belgium and Holland and then start to march into France; (3) after he has cleaned up Poland to make a peace offer, Chamberlain says he has been trying to think what shape this offer would take and he is convinced it would be something like this: Hitler would say, “I do not want to fight with England and France; I have no further territorial aims; all I want is what I have taken now—Danzig, the Corridor and Eastern Silesia, giving me my old frontiers back; I am perfectly willing to sit in with England and settle our difficulties; therefore why have a war that will mean destruction to all of us?” Chamberlain says he believes Hitler is much more unlikely now to make this proposition than he was last week, because of course he senses the psychological strengthening his cause has received through Russia’s military action against Poland. Chamberlain said he has tried to think of every other possible suggestion that could be included in a peace proposal and has come to the conclusion that nothing else could be added. Therefore he said that since it would be a complete violation of all the terms for which England went to war he would completely refuse to accept these suggestions and do it quickly.

The conversation then turned to the change in the Neutrality Act.65a He said of course he understands the difficulties in changing the act now because it is so definitely tied up with the mistaken notion that the mere changing of this act means getting America into the war. He reiterated most clearly for my benefit that he has never had the slightest suspicion that America contemplated coming to their rescue with men and that he was in complete sympathy with America’s position in this respect but he did feel that Britain should receive the benefit of at least being able to buy goods, pay for them and carry them away. He thinks that the passage of a bill which would permit England to buy and carry goods would be the greatest psychological lift that England could have at this time and failure to pass it would be “sheer disaster” for England and France.

I am thoroughly convinced that Chamberlain is well aware of the terrific catastrophes ahead for Great Britain. I think he is probably doing some wishful thinking on the aspects of the good breaks that might come his way such as Balkan allies or Italy and I am also convinced that he feels that, with all Hitler has taken on with the acquisition of new territory, if the problem could only go back on an economic basis, Hitler would be thrown out by his own people because he could not take care of them with the resources he has at hand. I [Page 441] also judge that while Chamberlain does not expect the German people to break he is hoping that within a reasonable time, when the blockade works better, the German people will react against the Hitler regime.

I told Chamberlain I had heard in various places that the French were quite dissatisfied with England’s conduct of its air fleet to date and Chamberlain said, “Whoever told you that told you a hundred percent untruth because I am giving you now not hearsay but a direct question that I put to Gamelin:66 I said to him, ‘Are you satisfied with what the British air force is doing’ and he said, ‘Completely’; ‘I would not want them to do otherwise at this time.’ That being the case there can be no complaint about Britain’s part in the conflict so far, because they are not supposed to have an army ready to take on the battle and their navy and merchant fleet are doing all that they can.”

After listening to it all, I came away with this one impression based on my experience: when I was in the picture business whenever a new picture was being shown for the first time in the projection room a few of the top side executives would go in to look at it before it was shown to anybody on the premises and when we came out the crowd would be gathered around to see what we thought of it and in my 4 years I have never seen any executive come out that did not say the picture was “great”, and in all that time I have never seen the group that waited outside for the judgment ever wrong in deciding that the tone of the executives “great” meant it was really lousy; so while the word was always the same the real impression was gathered very accurately. I draw a parallel from my picture experience to this conversation today. While Chamberlain did not say everything was great, he certainly did not want to give me the impression that everything was lousy, but nevertheless that is what I think it is.

  1. H. J. Res. 306, approved November 4, 1939; 54 Stat. 4. For correspondence, see pp. 656 ff.
  2. Gen. Maurice Gamelin, Commander in Chief of the French Army.