Beyond the Book: Background information when reading The Irregulars

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The Irregulars

Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington

by Jennet Conant

The Irregulars by Jennet Conant
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2008, 416 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2009, 416 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

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Britain & The USA in World War II
Very often a parent gives life to a rebellious child and the two of them engage in a lifelong love-hate relationship - until, for health or other reasons, that parent needs help. At that point the prodigal child often returns to step in at the parent's hour of need; though not always without a little coaxing. Such was the case with Britain and the United States at the outset of World War II.

America had a large population of Anglophobes and isolationists due a rocky history between the two nations that began with the Boston Tea Party. However, when Europe, including Britain, was faced with almost certain annihilation at the hands of Hitler's troops, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill turned to the biggest kid on the block for support. And although American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt wasn't a confirmed isolationist, he was not altogether keen on involving his country in another all out world war either (World War I having ended barely 20 years before). So Churchill pulled out all the stops, adding his own personal touch to the behind-the-scenes work of Stephenson's gang at the British Security Coordination.

Even though he had been singularly unimpressed with Roosevelt when the pair met some 20 years earlier, Churchill was more than willing to put all differences aside when it became clear to him that Britain's – indeed all of Europe's – future was at stake. Britain desperately needed American military intervention. So he buried his pride. From almost pleading with Roosevelt to enter the war in the beginning to allowing the US President to tease him in public, Churchill showed that personal sacrifice is not too much to ask of a statesman if it will benefit his country.

To their credit the pair never allowed pettiness to supersede their shared political goals, sometimes drawing on common personal ground – both had children in military service, both enjoyed good food and the cocktail hour – to strengthen an at-times fragile but internationally vital friendship.

Related Link: From materials such as personal correspondence and interviews with surviving former staff and family members, John Meacham's Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship paints a personal picture of the complicated relationship between these two powerful statesmen during the watershed years of The Great War.

Article by Donna Chavez

This article was originally published in September 2008, and has been updated for the September 2009 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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