Dulles had reported that one group of anti-Hitler conspirators wanted "to prevent Central Europe from coming...under the control of Russia." As Roosevelt knew, Churchill might be sorely tempted by a deal with a new German government that could save British lives and block the Soviets in Europe, provoking an immediate confrontation with Stalin. Even worse was the possibility that a post-Hitler government might side with the Soviets against the Anglo-Americans.
Told of the attempted assassination, reporters in San Diego badgered Roosevelt's aides for the President's reaction to the news. The President offered no comment. Whatever he said would be playing with fire. If he publicly welcomed the plot, he might seem to be backing off from unconditional surrender. If he denounced it, he might appear indifferent to a development that might end the war quickly. If he opposed the plot and it proved ultimately to succeed, Stalin would have a better chance to make a deal with a new post-Hitler government that would let the Soviets dominate Europe.
Instead, Roosevelt wrote a carefully worded private message to Stalin suggesting that the plot was encouraging because it revealed a Nazi foe in disarray: "We have just received news of the difficulties in Germany and especially at Hitler's headquarters. It is all to the good." With the same cheerful presumption that the plot could be nothing but good news, Roosevelt wrote his wife, Eleanor, "Dearest Babs....I might have to hurry back earlier if this German revolt gets worse! I fear though that it won't."
On Friday evening in Chicago, with Roosevelt's consent, Democrats had chosen Senator Harry Truman of Missouri for Vice President. In San Diego, with Truman safely nominated, the President and Fala were driven in darkness to Broadway Pier and piped aboard the heavy cruiser Baltimore, bound for Honolulu. To protect Roosevelt from Japanese attack, the gleaming new ship was escorted by four destroyers. It followed an unpredictable route and was darkened from sunset to sunrise. During the voyage, sailors had to be stopped from cutting snippets of hair from Fala to send home.
The President slept soundly and sat on the vessel's flag bridge, enjoying the sun and cool breezes. During his Pacific idyll and later in the trip, Roosevelt received intelligence reports that after Hitler's near-murder, the "blood purge" of the Führer's internal enemies was "ruthless." So many Germans were being arrested that "schools and other large public buildings are being used as supplementary jails." Roosevelt was informed that after Hitler's clean sweep, Germans would now "probably have to wait for the complete military collapse of Germany to rid themselves of the Nazis."
When the Baltimore arrived in Honolulu, its presidential flag was hoisted. This upset the Secret Service, but by now, almost everyone in the Hawaiian capital knew that Roosevelt was coming. Staying in a mansion bequeathed to the United States by a hard-drinking millionaire who had committed suicide, the President had what he called a "splendid" talk with General Douglas MacArthur about the Pacific war.
Only a full week after Hitler's near-assassination did Roosevelt make his first public comment about the plot. As the President sat with reporters on the emerald lawn of the Hawaiian governor's palace, he was excruciatingly careful: "I don't think I know anything more about it than you do....We can all have our own ideas about it." He went on to reaffirm the Allied demand for unconditional surrender: "Practically every German denies the fact they surrendered in the last war. But this time, they are going to know it!"
From Moscow, Stalin's propagandists agreed: "Hitlerite Germany will be driven to her knees not by insurgent officers, but by ourselves and our Allies!"
Churchill scoffed at the anti-Hitler plot. Before the House of Commons, he explained that high German officials were merely trying to elude their inevitable, absolute defeat by "murdering one another."
Copyright © 2002 by Michael Beschloss.
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