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Error or not, FDR was us…

Error or not, FDR was us…

Extraordinary exploits are seeing the light of day in a new book titled “Exiled Emissary: George H. Earle III – Soldier, Sailor, Diplomat, Governor, Spy”, by former counterespionage officer Chris Farrell.

By Nazarul Islam

On March 24, 1960, the small though influential biweekly Human Events published the following earthshaking claim: “Millions of American men and women would gladly have given their lives if it meant ending World War II a day sooner than it did. I believe one man had a chance to shorten the conflict by more than 18 months – and brushed it off.”  Seventeen years had passed. But the next sentence delivered the shocker: “His name? President Franklin D. Roosevelt.” The exclamation mark after the title “FDR’s Tragic Mistake!” failed to mitigate the understatement.

The claim sounded so preposterous it would have been dismissed out of hand were it not for its author’s impeccable reputation: former Pennsylvania governor George H. Earle was no crank. Appointed U.S. Minister to Austria and Bulgaria by FDR, and later assistant U.S. Naval Attaché in Istanbul, he had been a one-man CIA, the president’s trusted personal agent. A singularly unorthodox arrangement, the relationship would have been history-altering, were it not for one insurmountable problem: FDR paid no heed to him. Worse, he resented information that contradicted his instincts, ideology, and information received from White House aides, some of whom, wittingly or unwittingly, and surely unbeknownst to him, were parroting the Kremlin line.

Extraordinary exploits are seeing the light of day in a new book titled “Exiled Emissary: George H. Earle III – Soldier, Sailor, Diplomat, Governor, Spy”, by former counterespionage officer Chris Farrell, whose excellent training in counterintelligence operations, insightful and extensive study of modern totalitarianism, and a natural aptitude for information warfare, a personal commitment, renders him ideally suited for the task. But no less important, Farrell first learned the story from his grandmother, who revealed her husband’s partnership with then-governor George Earle, in 1936, to help Jewish businessmen and their families escape from Nazi Germany.

True to his Mayflower ancestry, Earle had always been a staunch champion of equal rights. A year earlier, in 1935, Earle had worked with African-American state legislator Hobson Reynolds, who introduced an “equal rights” bill which Earle promptly signed. The bill “enable[d] any Negro in Pennsylvania to bring suit for damages if he is discriminated against by a hotel, restaurant, shop, or theatre.” The two had pulled it off without a hitch. “In this regard,” writes Farrell, “George Earle was 30-years ahead of the rest of the country. This was yet another moment wherein Earle demonstrated the courage of his personal conviction.”

Looking deeper into the life of his grandfather’s erstwhile partner, Farrell learned that Earle had proved faithful to his commander in chief long after the latter turned his back on him, ignoring both their personal friendship and Earle’s impeccable service to the country. Farrell was outraged that so important a matter was all but unknown to the public. As if any additional proof were needed that historical record-keeping, too often censored by entrenched interests, obscures uncomfortable truths about the real character and actions of individuals at the highest level, this case is surely among the most scandalous.

It had started as a close personal and professional relationship. President Roosevelt did not hesitate to call on Earle to uncover what was really going on in Europe at that critical and dangerous time before and during World War II, to report his findings unvarnished, bypassing bureaucrats. FDR had every reason to trust this brilliant businessman, who had made large contributions to the president’s campaigns. Indeed, in 1940 he unflinchingly stepped aside from the nomination for the presidency in order for FDR to make an unprecedented run for a third term. A Navy Cross recipient, having doubtless inherited some of his great-great-uncle Benjamin Franklin’s patriotic genes, Earle was fearless, yet also savvy and insightful.

Cultivating invaluable intelligence sources in the murky complexity of the Balkans could have changed history, had it not proved too effective to avoid raising the enmity of rivals within the national security bureaucracy – both in the intelligence agencies and the State Department – and of close advisors within the White House.

As Earle soon learned, FDR was surrounded by Soviet sympathizers and agents of influence, witting and unwitting fellow travelers. Only later would de-classified archives confirm the full extent of that infiltration, exposed in superb analyses by Herb Romerstein, M. Stanton Evans, Eric Breindel, Diana West, Harvey Klehr, John Earle Haynes, and others.

But advisors are not solely to blame. FDR thought of “Joe Stalin” as his friend, and trusted him. In his foreword to the book, senior intelligence officer Jack Dziak writes that the president himself shared their perspective: “FDR was not at all sympathetic to data, assessments, and intelligence that pointed to Stalin’s massacres, his other crimes, and his intelligence operations against the U.S. both before and during World War II.”

Thus that first unwelcome fact that Earle revealed to FDR, which led to the “tragic mistake!,” fell on all but deaf ears.

To be fair, it does sound like the script of a B-rated movie. Earle writes: “In 1943, while I was serving as U.S. Naval attaché at Istanbul, two high-placed Germans risked their lives to approach me with peace feelers. One was Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, chief of Hitler’s Secret Service.

The other was an agent of Franz von Papen, the Nazi ambassador to Turkey. This agent laid before me a fantastic proposition. Papen and other high-ranking German Army officers, some of them members of the Prussian aristocracy, were prepared to revolt against the Nazi regime, kidnap Hitler, seize control [sic] of the Nazi war machine and surrender to the Allies. They asked one thing in return: the containment of Russia. The still formidable German Army would line up with American and British troops at the Russian border and say to the Reds: ‘Stop. Stay back – where you belong.’”

By 1943, Earle had absolutely no illusions about the USSR. As minister to Austria in 1933-34 and in Bulgaria during 1942-42, he “had talked with fear-crazed refugees from Russia – Jews, Mohammedans, Christians.  Their stories were shocking testaments to inhuman Bolshevik brutality.  All of Russia was a monstrous concentration camp.”

He knew as well that “Russian leaders were creatures of lies and treachery,” they could not be trusted. So he jumped at the improbably fantastic German initiative, ironically realistic for its very audacity: “here was a chance to stop them in their tracks.” Earle contacted the president immediately, with no effect. None- The implication was clear: approval was always met with glowing acknowledgment by return courier. “But when a dispatched jarred or displeased him, I never got an answer.”

Farrell describes Earle’s revelation as “one of the most audacious and astounding clandestine acts of the Second World War.” If he stops short of adding “indeed of all time,” the reader would be justified to so. Equally astonishing, however, is his next observation: “It is also probably the least known German resistance overtures and one of the best kept secrets of the entire era.”  It is impossible to resist wondering why that is so – especially since the solo flight to Scotland by Deputy Fuhrer Rudolph Hess for an attempted, albeit failed, peace bid in May 1941 is well known.

Therein, almost certainly, lies the clue. By contrast, Canaris and Earle meeting, as Farrell points out “actually had some possibility for real success.”  That is precisely why FDR ignored it. The president would have had to have had an interest in ending the war. Indeed neither did the British, who were even more alarmed by Earle’s escapades – which undoubtedly deserves another book, all its own. In retrospect therefore, it makes perfect sense to suppress that uncomfortable episode.

Explains Farrell: “The ‘court history’ and victory’s propaganda simply does not allow for inconvenient, factual narratives to take hold or gain purchase in the contemporary conscience of establishment history,” speculates Farrell. “Legacy preservation trumps reality.” At this time of self-critical historical revisionism, it may be worth revisiting the nation’s sins in ways less ideologically skewed.

The second most important message among the many that Earle sent to a president unwilling to hear was delivered in May 1944. Having traveled to Washington, he was waiting for FDR to arrive when he chanced to meet Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, who lamented: “My God, George, you and I and [U.S. Ambassador to the USSR] Bill Bullitt are the only ones around the President who know the Russian leaders for what they really are.”

Still Earle had to make sure his commander-in-chief saw all the evidence demonstrating beyond doubt that the USSR was responsible for the slaughter of approximately 22,000 Polish officers, intellectuals, and religious figures in 1940 in the Katyn Forest. Unfurling countless photos, affidavits, Red Cross reports, autopsy documents, and interviews conducted with his extensive network of Central and Eastern European contacts, should have convinced the stubbornness skeptic.

But FDR “did not want to hear Earle’s analysis and conclusion.”  In fact, as Earle would later testify to Congress in 1947 and 1952, FDR rejected it all out of hand: “George, this is entirely German propaganda and a German plot. I am absolutely convinced the Russians did not do this.” Dismissing all of Earle’s warnings about Russia, the president predicted with casual confidence that “when the war is over she will fly to pieces like a cracked centrifugal machine at high speed.”

It would take another forty-seven years for the truth to emerge: in 1990, Premier Mikhail Gorbachev confirmed Soviet culpability. Two decades later, in November 2010, the Russian State Duma issued an official acceptance of responsibility.

Earle’s Congressional testimony had come long after FDR had severed both their personal and official relationship, indeed with unpardonable cruelty. On March 24, 1945, a full year after Earle had handed him the incriminating Katyn documents, FDR dispatched the following missive to his long-time friend: “I specifically forbid you to publish any information or opinion about an ally that you have acquired while in office or in the service of the United States Navy.

In view of your wish for continued active service, I shall withdraw any previous understanding that you are serving as an emissary of mine and I shall direct the Navy Department to continue your employment wherever they can make use of your services.” Two weeks later, FDR was dead. But Earle was exiled to Samoa. There he would become assistant governor to 16,000 island natives.

He remained in Samoa until recalled by President Truman, four months later.

Earle met his fate with typical equanimity. As he wrote to his friend General Albert C. Wedemeyer on December 11, 1958, “I felt I was perfectly safe in Samoa and that the longer I stayed there the more damning it would be for the pro Russians in our government,” who couldn’t but be irked by their failure to break him psychologically or to damage his reputation. Yet he would soon suffer a debilitating stroke, which eventually killed this fearless American, who surely deserves to be better known.

Earle never wavered in his belief that FDR missed the biggest chance of his presidency. “If President Roosevelt had accepted Papen’s peace offer and agreed to its one condition, it is my firm conviction that the war would have ended by January, 1944, at the latest!” He went on: “Most important of all, without the help of the German scientists they ultimately captured, the Russians would never have been able to develop long-range missiles or nuclear weapons.

The military supremacy of the United States would be clear and unchallenged.” But in truth, so much else would have had to be different; FDR’s was no mere mistake.

The enemy had turned out to be not only external but had been festering within. We had met him and learned, as had the famous diminutive strategist Pogo exactly half a century ago, that “he is us.”

[author title=”Nazarul Islam ” image=”https://sindhcourier.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Nazarul-Islam-2.png”]The Bengal-born writer Nazarul Islam is a senior educationist based in USA. He writes for Sindh Courier and the newspapers of Bangladesh, India and America. He is author of a recently published book ‘Chasing Hope’ – a compilation of his 119 articles.[/author]