The conquest
of the United States
by Britain

... with a little help from her friends


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The recent brouhaha over Patrick Buchanan's interpretation of World War II differs markedly from what had been the central historical dispute between the adherents of revisionism and orthodoxy on the American entrance into the war. That dispute revolved around the motives of the Roosevelt administration. The American historical establishment never accepted the World War II revisionists' contention that the American people had been tricked into war by a duplicitous Franklin Roosevelt, who falsely claimed that his policies would keep the United States at peace while doing his utmost to involve the country in war. [1] According to the long-held establishment version of American entry into World War II, a reluctant U.S. government had been dragged into war by the force of circumstances — the belligerent actions of Germany and Japan. [2]

What Thomas Mahl's taboo-shattering book makes clear, however, is that the revisionist interpretation was not only much closer to the truth, but that it, in fact, did not go nearly far enough — failing as it did to recognize the extent to which British intelligence had orchestrated the interventionist effort. [3] Moreover, the British played a critical role not only in bringing America into the war but also in inducing this country to emerge as a global superpower. Mahl bases his work on a number of recent government archival releases, which he, in detective-like fashion, melds with other materials — especially private papers — to arrive at his striking thesis.

Mahl, in short, presents "the story of the covert operations mounted by British intelligence to involve the United States in World War II and destroy isolationism. These operations profoundly changed America forever, helping it become the global power we see today — a power whose foreign policy leaders were freed to make, after the war, a multitude of global commitments unhampered by any significant isolationist opposition." (p. 1)

Long before the onset of World War II, Mahl observes, the British discerned the utter necessity of American military support in any future war with Germany. But, as made evident by the neutrality acts of the 1930s, the great bulk of the American people were adamantly opposed to becoming involved in another European war. Consequently, the British government recognized the need to become actively involved in domestic American politics in order to bring the reluctant American people into the war against Germany. Britain's great assets in this endeavor to transform American policy were her secret intelligence and propaganda agencies.

British success depended on the intimate cooperation of two crucial allies in the United States: the eastern Anglo-Saxon Protestant elite and the Roosevelt administration. "This Anglo-Saxon East Coast establishment, which included such financial luminaries as the Rockefellers, not only shared England's political ideals but literally loved England and English culture." (p.6) The Roosevelt administration had been "at war with Hitler long before Chamberlain was forced to declare it." (p.6) Those two American groups were "willing tools" of British intelligence in its war-involvement scheme, with each having its own particular role. The Eastern elite provided the influential individuals who shaped the national media and comprised the interventionist pressure groups. The White House engaged in deceptive diplomacy and allowed British intelligence to operate freely on American soil. "What British intelligence brought to the equation," Mahl writes, "was sharp focus, good organization, technical expertise, and a courageous determination to do whatever was necessary — however illegal or unseemly." (p. 179)

The head of British intelligence in the United States was William S. Stephenson, a Canadian businessman, better known today by his New York cable address, Intrepid. [4] Arriving in the United States on April 2, 1940, Stephenson was, by January 1941, operating under the name of British Security Coordination (BSC), which administered all the varied secret British intelligence and propaganda organizations in the United States. Those organizations included British Secret Intelligence (SIS or MI-6), which was responsible for intelligence outside of Britain and the Commonwealths; Britain's Internal Security Service, MI-5, which, much like the FBI in this country, dealt with internal British security; and also a number of lesser-known security agencies.

BSC made use of any means, legal or illegal, to fight those it deemed enemies of Britain, a classification that consisted mainly of non-interventionist Americans who wanted to keep the United States out of the war, rather than actual German agents. [5] In essence, BSC sought to override the democratic will of the American people in the interests of the British government; and, most significantly, in this effort it was aided and abetted by the Roosevelt administration.

Of such great magnitude was BSC's influence in the Roosevelt administration that in 1941 it was able to design an American intelligence counterpart, the United States Coordinator of Information, which became the Office of Strategic Services the next year. The COI/OSS was created in the "image and likeness of British Security Coordination." (p. 21) Although officially headed by William Donovan, Stephenson's assistant, Dick Ellis, did much of the day-to-day running of the security agency, which was staffed by many other British agents. Moreover, "BSC passed on an attitude as much as it passed on specific technical skills. It passed on a way of looking at problems and an openness to possible solutions — no matter their legality or morality." (p. 21)

Another crucial BSC activity was the setting up of pro-interventionist front groups, the most important being the Council for Democracy and the Fight for Freedom, Inc. (FFF). By the last quarter of 1941, FFF, which cooperated closely with the White House, had become a central propaganda agency promoting a nationwide campaign for a U.S. declaration of war. Its propaganda built a demand for more extreme pro-war policies that a politically cautious President Roosevelt could then follow. Mahl illustrates the paramount role of British intelligence behind interventionist groups by discussing the fate of the first major interventionist group, the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies (CDAAA), nominally headed by the noted journalist William Allen White. The CDAAA publicly proclaimed that aid to Britain served to keep the United States out of the war. After British support shifted to the more militant Fight For Freedom in the summer of 1941, the CDAAA faded and died.

The principal tactic of British propaganda, Mahl points out, was to excite American fears of a direct German threat to the United States. That involved two basic themes: that Germany was poised to take over Latin America and that American non-interventionists were pro-Nazi fifth columnists. (It should be noted here that there was virtually no mention of German persecution of Jews, which today has become the ultimate justification for the "good war.") The theme that non-interventionists were really Nazi agents had perhaps the greatest long-term impact. That lethal smear destroyed the careers of many non-interventionists, eliminating opposition not only to involvement in World War II but also to postwar American globalism in general. [6]

British intelligence worked closely with media moguls and big-name writers to spread stories reflecting those propaganda themes. Mahl clearly shows that this was not a case of influential Americans unwittingly repeating British propaganda, but rather was a deliberate and direct collaboration with British agents. Among the many luminaries who consciously cooperated with British intelligence were publisher Henry Luce, noted columnist Walter Lippmann, New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger, and many of the foremost Hollywood movie producers. Robert Sherwood, Roosevelt's speechwriter, went so far as to clear the president's speeches with Stephenson before they were delivered.

Among BSC's greatest propaganda coups was the production of a fake German map illustrating a fictitious German plan to take over South America. The map's creator was Walter Lippmann's brother-in-law, Ivar Bryce, who was one of Stephenson's agents. President Roosevelt, who was aware of the map's bogus origin, made effective use of it in persuading Congress to dismantle the last of the neutrality legislation in the fall of 1941.

Also of paramount importance in pushing the country into war was British intelligence's manipulation of public opinion polls. Mahl intones: "The first thing to know when reading the public opinion polls commonly cited from 1939 to 1942 is that none of them was produced by disinterested seekers of truth. The most prominent polls were all under the influence of British intelligence, its friends, employees, and agents. At the very best, when questions of the war or internal relations are considered, the major polls should be thought of as what modern critics call 'advocacy polls.' " (p. 69)

With public support for interventionism exaggerated in the polls, pragmatic politicians could gravitate in that direction. For example, a 1940 Gallup poll showed strong backing for the military draft — especially from those men actually facing conscription! In contrast, congressional mail ran overwhelmingly against  the draft. Mahl writes that "without these cooked polls the congressional mail would certainly have killed conscription." (p. 84) Even when the poll figures were not rigged outright, they were "tweaked and massaged and cooked" to aid the interventionist cause. (p. 86)

Despite the biased nature of the polls, it is noteworthy that prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, no poll ever showed more than 21 percent of the people answering in the affirmative to the direct question whether the United States should engage in war against Germany. Rather, "It was on tangential, difficult-to-check, often loaded and contrived questions that covered stepping-stone issues that the American public was said to favor policies that would obviously lead to war." (p. 85) One would be well-advised to keep that in mind while reading poll results of the present day.

British intelligence, as Mahl aptly illustrates, had the ability to destroy, transform, or advance American political figures, according to the dictates of British military policy. For example, he shows how British intelligence tried to destroy staunch non-interventionist congressman Hamilton Fish of New York by concocting bogus scandal stories. Seductive female British agents were used to transmute the political position of the influential Republican Senator Arthur Vandenberg from non-interventionist to interventionist. And the nomination of Wendell Willkie as the 1940 Republican presidential candidate was the collaborative work of British intelligence, American interventionists, and the Roosevelt White House. Making Willkie the Republican nominee required Herculean effort since he had never before held public office and had actually been a Democrat. The purpose of his nomination was not to defeat Roosevelt but to make sure that no non-interventionist alternative existed. Willkie himself consciously participated in this deception, maintaining close ties with British agents and the White House.

Mahl evaluates British intelligence activities in the United States as "one of the most important and successful covert operations of history." (p. 186) What is most astounding, however, is not the British activity but the collaboration by the Roosevelt administration. For while Britain was simply pursuing her perceived national interest, Roosevelt's cooperation with the intelligence service of a foreign state could certainly be labeled as treasonous. A current theme of the Establishment media is that what made Nixon's Watergate activity so heinous, in contrast to the alleged sexual peccadillo of President Clinton's perjury and cover-up, was its intent to illegally alter the political process. However, whatever political impact the Nixon administration intended as a result of the Watergate break-in would seem to pale in comparison to Roosevelt's effective manipulation of the political process, with the support of the British government, to bring the United States into a world war. For such an egregious violation of the democratic will and the laws of the country, Franklin Roosevelt deserved not simply impeachment but imprisonment.

Mahl provides little legal or moral evaluation of the activities he so vividly depicts — his approach puts one in mind of a man meticulously describing a bank robbery without dwelling on the fact that stealing is morally wrong and illegal. In fact, in the last paragraph of the book, he offers a brief justification for the policies because of the beneficent ends they purportedly served: "Covert operations were the tool that ultimately was responsible for saving England. As history knows now, England's saving was the world's." (p. 187)

By tacking on a justification for the Anglo-American policy of illegality and deception at the end of his work, Mahl apparently intends to remain within the boundaries of Political Correctness — he is, after all, dealing with the "good war." It should be emphasized, however, that nowhere else in the book does he offer apologetics. Mahl's concluding statement resembles nothing so much as the paeans to Marxist-Leninism extraneously inserted by those scholars in the former Communist Eastern Europe who produced works that otherwise implicitly repudiated the fundamental tenets of the reigning ideology.

Mahl's use of the phrase "as history knows" also contradicts his own demonstration that previous histories of American World War II intervention were erroneous. Mahl even goes so far as to imply that some of those works — such as the William L. Langer and S. Everett Gleason classic, The Challenge to Isolation: The World Crises of 1937-1940 and American Foreign Policy  [7] — were deliberately meant to deceive. [8] Now, if historians could be so erroneous, sometimes intentionally so, on the issue of American intervention, there is no reason to believe that other aspects of the traditional version of World War II are inerrant, especially those involving a rather subjective judgment as to whether American intervention "saved the world." Mahl, in fact, tends to refute the notion that Hitler had global aspirations when he points out that the oft-made argument that Germany had designs on South America was simply a concoction of British intelligence. Further, numerous works have shown that American intervention was not even essential for England's salvation. As John Charmley and others have maintained, England could have saved herself by agreeing to a separate peace with Germany. [9]

Although Mahl breaks new ground in this book, his account is far from definitive, being silent, or nearly silent, on a number of salient issues. For example, he does not provide detailed information on how the British worked to smear the major non-interventionist group, America First, and its leading spokesmen, such as Charles A. Lindbergh, which was a far more significant undertaking than the verbal attack on Hamilton Fish. Also, although Mahl claims that the British would use any means to achieve their ends, he does not actually describe any lethal activities on their part. He makes no mention of the allegation by William Stephenson that BSC murdered William Rhodes Davis, a Texas oilman who was promoting a compromise peace. [10] Furthermore, while Mahl emphasizes the Anglo-Saxon background of the leading interventionists, more than a few seem to have been Jewish, a taboo subject that he leaves undiscussed.

The aforementioned caveats notwithstanding, Mahl has produced an excellent work that chips away at the sanctity of the "good war." Moreover, his account does more than provide a needed corrective to the history of a half-century past. It offers a not-too-distant mirror for American foreign policy of influence. Once again, in our time, many Americans are consciously working on behalf of a foreign country. And those supporters, who include actual Israeli agents, are deeply embedded in all parts of the American power structure. In fact, the role of pro-Zionists is more overt than that of the Anglophiles in the World War II period. An analysis of this current phenomenon would provide an invaluable service to those concerned about protecting the real security of the United States and its people. But the pro-Zionist interest is so powerful and so pervasive in American society that one cannot safely point out its existence — meaning that a Mahl-like analysis will not be undertaken in the foreseeable future. Ω

January 11, 2000

Published in 2000 by WTM Enterprises.
© 2000 by Stephen J. Sniegoski. All rights reserved by author.

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1. The major World War II revisionists were Charles Beard, Harry Elmer Barnes, Charles C. Tansill, and William Henry Chamberlin. [Back]

2. Roosevelt had, in fact, been blamed by some historians, such as Robert A. Divine (The Reluctant Belligerent: American Entry into World War Two,  1965) for failing to provide the leadership to bring the country into a war they regarded as necessary. Today, there seems to be a shift   FDR did work to get the United States into war (or at least into a belligerent stance), but his pro-war deception was good because it served beneficent ends. The revisionists' description of Rooseveltian foreign policy is thus accepted, although not their negative evaluation of it. Confirmation of that is provided by Patrick Buchanan's critics' failure to take issue with his emphasis on Roosevelt's duplicity. However, Establishment writers have made no acknowledgment that they have accepted what had heretofore been a pariah position. [Back]

3. Non-interventionists were not totally unaware of British involvement. In Charles A. Lindbergh's famous (or notorious) speech to an America First Rally in Des Moines, Iowa, on September 11, 1941, he accurately pointed out that the "three most important groups who have been pressing this country toward war are the British, the Jewish, and the Roosevelt administration."

Wayne S. Cole, the pre-eminent historian of American non-interventionism, devotes a half-paragraph to Stephenson and the British Security Coordination in his monumental Roosevelt & the Isolationists, 1932-45  (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983), p. 486. Cole writes: "Similarly, William S. Stephenson and his British Security Co-Ordination in New York, with Roosevelt's assent and Hoover's cooperation, actively helped in the domestic struggle against American isolationists. Stephenson's organization secretly worked to discredit America First, Lindbergh, Fish, and other isolationists." [Back]

4. William Stevenson, A Man Called Intrepid: The Secret War  (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976) [Back]

5. In this article, I use the term "non-interventionist" rather than "isolationist" to describe the opponents of American involvement in World War II. "Isolationist" was (and still is) a pejorative term applied by Establishment interventionists. There is no evidence that the non-interventionists wanted to isolate the United States from the rest of the world; they simply did not want their country to become involved in a European war.

Joe Sobran offers a good description of how the term "isolationist" is used:

Anyone who proposes that we reduce our military forces to a purely defensive scale is immediately accused of "isolationism" — an abusive term that has helped the American people forget the principles of the founders' warnings against foreign entanglements.... It's interesting that the only isolationists on earth are Americans. When Russia pulls its military forces out of other countries, nobody worries that the Russians are becoming isolationist or forsaking their global responsibilities. Foreign countries are not supposed to assert their power beyond their own borders. That's strictly an American prerogative. Presumably it's our way of "serving" mankind. ("Polspeak 101," Sobran's,  December 1995, p. 8) [Back]

6. Allegations of Nazi sympathies on the part of non-interventionists continue through the present although the leading historians of the subject have absolutely repudiated the charge. Wayne Cole, for example, writes:

It has now been more than a half century since the America First Committee waged its losing battle to stay out of World War II. I began doing research on the committee in 1947 — two years after the death of Roosevelt and the end of World War II. In the decades since then I have done research in every document and letter I have been able to locate on the committee, its leaders and members, and its critics. I researched the papers of the organization and of many of its leaders — including Lindbergh. I gained research access to Justice Department and FBI records.

From the beginning I took the charges against the committee very seriously. I analyzed them with great care. There were unsavory and disloyal members of the committee. Its membership was extremely diverse, and its loose knit organization made control over local chapters difficult. A few obscure individuals were convicted later for failure to register as foreign agents. Nonetheless, after studying America First and its membership thoroughly over the course of more than three decades, I am increasingly impressed by how clear it was. Close scrutiny leaves an overall impression of loyalty, patriotism, good citizenship, courage, and devotion to the country. Its leaders and members used democratic methods responsibly to influence public opinion and government action on issues of vital importance to all Americans. If one were to balance negatives (that is, the morality of the "dirty tricks" used by opponents of America First versus the magnitude of unsavory or disloyal elements within the committee) the America First Committee comes off vastly better than its critics. The fact that one disagreed profoundly with the views of Lindbergh and believed him totally wrong did not justify accusing him of disloyalty and Nazi sympathies. Those charges simply were not true. (Determinism and American Foreign Relations During the Franklin D. Roosevelt Era  [Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1995], pp 41-2) [Back]

7. New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1952 (2 vols.). [Back]

8. Langer and Gleason had worked for the OSS, and their study had been subsidized by the Rockefellers, who had also provided rent-free space in the Rockefeller Center for the BSC. [Back]

9. John Charmley, Churchill: The End of Glory  (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1993). [Back]

10. Stevenson, pp. 294-5. [Back]