The Secret British Campaign to Persuade the U.S. to Enter WWII

Historians in the News
tags: britain, MI6, propaganda, World War 2

In June of 1941, Americans read about an extraordinary British mission into Nazi-occupied France. Newspapers, including the Baltimore Sun and New York Post, detailed how the British parachuted into an airfield with tommy guns and hand grenades, overpowered the guards and destroyed about 30 planes. All of the team members made it back to Britain alive via torpedo boats, along with 40 German prisoners in tow. It was an incredible story.

It was also completely made-up.

Unbeknownst to the United States, the British foreign intelligence service known as MI6 had planted the story in the press as part of a covert influence campaign to convince the country to enter World War II. With Hitler aggressively gaining ground across the continent and dropping bombs over London, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had been anxiously lobbying Franklin D. Roosevelt for reinforcements against the Germans, but America firmly resisted being drawn into another bloody war on the European continent. In May 1940, after the Nazis invaded the Low Countries and France, a Gallup poll reported that only 7% of Americans thought the U.S. should declare war on Germany. In April 1941, the aviation hero Charles Lindbergh and the America First Committee led a massively popular campaign against U.S. entry into WWII, a conflict many Americans didn’t see as winnable.

“Americans generally did not see Britain as some close, beloved ally at the start of the Second World War,” says Henry Hemming, author of Agents of Influence: A British Campaign, a Canadian Spy, and the Secret Plot to Bring America into World War II. “Britain was instead one of the major economic rivals to the United States.” In addition, the colonialist British Empire, which America had proudly detached itself from, “was hugely unpopular, and understandably so.”


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