The British-French Guarantee of Poland and Rumania in 1939
The fourth abysmal loss of statesmanship was when the British and French guaranteed the independence of Poland and Rumania at the end of March 1939. It was at this point that the European democracies reversed their previous policies of keeping hands off the inevitable war between Hitler and Stalin.
It was probably the greatest blunder in the whole history of European-power diplomacy. Britain and France were helpless to save Poland from invasion. By this act, however, they threw the bodies of democracy between Hitler and Stalin. By their actions they not only protected Stalin from Hitler but they enabled him to sell his influence to the highest bidder. The Allies did bid but Stalin’s price was annexation of defenseless people of the Baltic States and East Poland, a moral price which the Allies could not meet. Stalin got his price from Hitler.
Yet Hitler had no intention of abandoning his determination to expand in Southeast Europe and to destroy the Communist Vatican in Moscow. But now he must of necessity first neutralize the Western Democracies which he proceeded to do.
The long train of the hideous World War II started from the blunder of the Polish guarantees. Roosevelt had some part in these power politics, but the record is yet too incomplete to establish how much. Churchill, not yet in the government, had contributed something by goading Chamberlain to desperate action after his appeasement at Munich.
United States’ Undeclared War
The fifth major blunder in statesmanship was when Roosevelt, in the winter of 1941, threw the United States into undeclared war with Germany and Japan in total violation of promises upon which he had been elected a few weeks before.
Failure in Watchful Waiting
In the weeks before lend-lease and its war powers were forced upon the American people, Roosevelt knew definitely of Hitler’s determination to attack Russia, and he informed the Russians of it. He should have turned away from the undeclared war on Germany, confined lend-lease to simple aid to Britain by way of finances, to buy munitions, supplies, and ships, thus keeping within international law. Statesmanship at that moment demanded imperiously a policy of watchful waiting.
Alliance with Stalin
Indeed the greatest loss of statesmanship in all American history was the tacit American alliance and support of Communist Russia when Hitler made his attack in June 1941. Even the false theory that American military strength was needed to save Britain had now visibly vanished. By diversion of Nazi furies into the swamps of Russia, no one could any longer doubt the safety of Britain and all the Western world. These monstrous dictators were bound to exhaust themselves no matter who won. Even if Hitler won military victory, he would be enmeshed for years trying to hold these people in subjection. And he was bound even in victory to exhaust his military strength — and the Russians were bound to destroy any sources of supplies he might have hoped for. His own generals opposed his action.
American aid to Russia meant victory for Stalin and the spread of Communism over the world. Statesmanship again imperiously cried to keep out, be armed to the teeth and await their mutual exhaustion. When that day came there would have been an opportunity for the United States and Britain to use their strength to bring a real peace and security to the free world. No greater opportunity for lasting peace ever came to a president and he muffed it.