CITIZENS OF LONDON: The Americans Who Stood With Britain In Its Darkest, Finest Hour.

AuthorHoadley, Stephen
PositionBook review

CITIZENS OF LONDON: The Americans Who Stood With Britain In Its Darkest, Finest Hour

Author: Lynne Olson

Published by: Scribe, London, 2015, 4l9pp, 10.99 [pounds sterling].

The story of how the United States joined Great Britain in the early 1940s to stop the Nazi advance and eventually liberate Europe is well known. Less well known is how close the United States came to standing aside from the conflict in Europe until it was too late. Lynne Olson tells this story.

In 1940-41 the signs were not favourable for US intervention. Congress had passed the Neutrality Acts in 1935-37. The America First Committee, inspired by Charles Lindberg, and many German-Americans and Irish-Americans, were unsympathetic to Britain's plight. US Ambassador Joseph Kennedy (father of JFK) advocated appeasement of Hitler and believed the defeat of Britain by Germany was inevitable. The United States and Britain were 'two countries divided by the English language', their people guided not by familiarity but rather stereotypes of each other. Britons felt condescension towards Americans. Americans felt resentful that the British, having lost battle after battle in two world wars, again expected the United States to make sacrifices to save Britain.

Further, 'Roosevelt and Churchill not only were strangers but also were suspicious and even hostile to each other'. (Churchill did not remember meeting Roosevelt two decades prior, which annoyed the egotistical Roosevelt.)

Lynne Olson's book, then, is a detailed and vivid account of why Roosevelt, against the prevailing US popular and political opinions of the time, and after much hesitation, contrived to aid Britain, and how. At first US assistance was piecemeal, grudging and self-interested. But after the Pearl Harbor attack the United States mobilised its military and industrial might and gave priority to defending Britain, liberating France and defeating Hitler before turning to the Pacific theatre to deal with Japan.

Olson has written an engaging account not only of the interactions of Roosevelt and Churchill and their respective officials in the period 1940-45 but also of how three...

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