MR. DRISCOLL: American Betrayal discusses FDR and America’s Lend-Lease program supplying vehicles and equipment to the Soviet Union. As you write in the book, the most common objection to this is that, given that both we and the Soviets were at war with Nazi Germany, what was wrong with this?
MS. WEST: Well, it’s a very fair question. The premise of it, I think, is something that we’ve never quite understood. We assume — and people did at the time — that America, Britain, and the Soviet Union, all had as their primary objective, in fighting the war in Europe, the overthrow of Hitler — of Hitler’s Germany, of the Nazi Reich.
Certainly, that was the operational premise that led us into war along with Great Britain. Stalin, however, had a different idea. He wanted to supplant the Third Reich. He wanted to overthrow it and take its place. And indeed he did, with our help. And the Lend-Lease story is something that is so shocking when you realize the scope of hundreds of millions of dollars’-worth of aid that flowed from the United States to the Soviet Union, to a point where I was quite staggered to read a comment that Khrushchev made in 1970. He basically — one of the few times you get an acknowledgement of American aid from a Soviet leader, he actually said in Life magazine that it — if he hadn’t had those half a million Dodge trucks and cars and other kinds of American cars and transport, he didn’t know if the Red Army could have made it to Berlin.
I mean think about that. We were actually supplying the means by which the Red Army was able to move into Europe and indeed take it over. This was the kind of aid that was going forward. And additionally — and this is another bit of our completely lost history — we through Lend-Lease actually gave the Soviet Union uranium, heavy water and something like a hundred other atomic materials, during the Manhattan Project, when there were embargoes on such materials, particularly, namely uranium.
And after the war, when this came out, this was the beginning of a huge scandal that was sort of tamped down. And I believe that this was one of the sort of disappearing little kind of back legs of a tiger going down a hole here, that I try to pull out and take another look at what was going on with the late breaking developments since the ’90s, knowing about the agents in our midst, what was going on with Lend-Lease, what was going on with the atomic supply to the Soviet Union during World War II. This was the kind of question I was trying to take our new understanding, the new intelligence archival information and go back, reweave the narrative, and see what it really looks like.
And that’s why I called the book American Betrayal. There was a lot of betrayal going on of the American people by our leadership.
MR. DRISCOLL: Diana, I wanted to ask you about a couple of names that appear in American Betrayal. First off, who was Harry Hopkins, and what role does he play in your new book?
MS. WEST: Well, who was Harry Hopkins? I mean, I didn’t know. I knew the name. I could even imagine in — on hearing the name when I began my research, a very skinny fellow, a New Dealer. But I really didn’t know much more than that. And when I went back into the records, again, something we’re not taught in — even in high school or college courses about the period — Harry Hopkins was about the most important man in America besides Roosevelt. And sometimes more important, because very often he had the final say on programs and projects. It’s kind of an astonishing fact.
He lived in the White House for three and a half years, with the Roosevelts, part of that time actually during the war. He was the overseer of Lend-Lease and many other programs. In fact, he generally was thought of as Roosevelt’s foreign office run out of the White House.
This was a time where you actually see the executive branch ramp up and take all manner of powers that once were part of the Senate. Treaty-making powers once were certainly part of a State Department, normal work of the State Department and Secretary of State. They almost became fifth wheels during World War II, when Harry Hopkins was essentially our foreign minister.
And when you actually go back to the wartime conferences, the famous wartime conferences such as Tehran or Yalta with Stalin and Churchill, or the other meetings with — with Churchill without Stalin, Harry Hopkins is the man functioning as our foreign minister.