September 15, 2017

1942. Britain Rejects American Criticism of the War Effort

Home Secretary Morrison Responds to Critics
"A British patrol is on the lookout for enemy movements over a valley in the Western Desert, on the Egyptian side of the Egypt-Libya border, in February of 1942" (source)
Bill Downs

CBS London

October 30, 1942

There was neither confirmation nor denial from the United States Army headquarters in London this morning that General Eisenhower was to be recalled to Washington for consultation. The report came from the Associated Press bureau in Washington. The official statement from General Eisenhower's headquarters is a cryptic "no comment."

Herbert Morrison, the British Home Secretary, said some things in a speech yesterday that should have been said a long time ago. Paradoxically, though, his speech was made in answer to people who have been damning the British—not in Germany, but in America.

Mr. Morrison frankly took the British light from under its traditional self-effacing bushel and said that Britain need not apologize to anyone for its prosecution of the war for the past three years. Then he said, "We have made mistakes and suffered ill fortune, but happily we owe no one an explanation on that account except ourselves."

Mr. Morrison pointed out that, at the time Britain stood alone before the massed armies of Hitler, "a large proportion of the world was generous with its applause."

"Today," he continued, "it seems to be rather a different story. We are having critical shafts directed at us from various points of the compass. We are being pressed to do various things, military and political, now and after the war."

The British Home Secretary did not say Britain was above criticism. He said, however, that the people who have most right to urge Britain on are the exiled governments who have been forced to sit and watch Hitler enslave their people. These governments have not complained about the British war effort, Mr. Morrison said, probably because they can see for themselves the effort Britain is making.

"And perhaps too," he continued, "because their memories are not too short and they look back when we stood their only comrade in arms, the only friend who offered them not merely friendship but a strong right arm bent up to strike in their cause."

Mr. Morrison said Britain during the past three years has fought a hard and honorable war. He reiterated the victories over the Italian army in Abyssinia—the defeat of the German air force in the Battle of Britain—the ordinary man's victory over the intense German bombings of Coventry, London, Plymouth, and other towns. He said Britain has nothing to be ashamed of in her attempted defense of Greece.

And about India, the Home Secretary said that nation was made a fair offer of independence, an offer designed to cause no rift in the war effort. This offer has not yet been accepted, he said, adding, "This is not the moment to stop to consider why. In any case, I hope and believe that in the end the substance of the offer will be accepted."

Perhaps it was by coincidence that Ambassador Winant also made a speech last night which has a direct bearing on the question of British and American relations. Mr. Winant said that the human race must go forward together or not at all. "If our two nations ever become divided in their purpose, it is hard to see how the world can find a way out from its present misery or realize a basis for a lasting collaboration and peace program."

But the main point of all these speeches and criticisms and agitations and appeals for unity is that they are going to sound pretty good to Herr Goebbels. Nazi propagandists know that the surest way to lick a combined enemy is to get that enemy fighting among themselves.

However, the most important fact to emerge from all of this talk of dislike and criticism between the British and United States is that the ordinary Britisher here doesn't quite know or understand what all the shouting is about. The little people of Britain like the Americans and show it every day in their treatment of our soldiers. He wants the Americans to like him.

But whether the people of the United States love him or despise him is not important to the British man on the street. The important thing is to get on with the war and victory.

There is a standard joke on this side of the Atlantic which the British repeat whenever the question of British-American relations comes up. The Britisher will put down his pint of beer, grin and say, "You know, it appears that your people in America only like us when we're suffering or being bombed or something."