Roosevelt's Lend-lease plan -- which promised the return of American weapons after England used them -- "was patent nonsense," according to historian Robert Dallek. "What were the British going to do, give us the tanks back that were blown up, the planes that were shot down?"
Narrator: Roosevelt wanted to help, but most Americans were against involvement in any war. It would take all of F.D.R.'s political genius to get Churchill what England needed to survive.
Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt (archival): We cannot and we will not tell them that they must surrender merely because of present inability to pay for the weapons which we know they must have.
David McCullough: Congress had prohibited Roosevelt from sending weapons unless England paid in cash and England was bankrupt. The President would have to outmaneuver the lawmakers.
Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt (archival): I do not recommend that we make them a loan of dollars with which to pay for these weapons.
David McCullough: Roosevelt proposed a daring plan with an innocuous name, lend-lease.
Robert Dallek, historian: Lend-lease was a way to give the British planes, tanks, guns, artillery, ammunition without them really paying for it. And reporters at a press conference asked him, "What does this mean? What does lend-lease mean?"
David McCullough: Roosevelt explained that we would "lend" England the weapons and when the war was over, England would return them. It was like lending a neighbor a garden hose to put out a fire, he said. After the fire was out, the neighbor would simply return the hose.
Robert Dallek: Well, of course, it was patent nonsense. What were the British going to do, give us the tanks back that were blown up, the planes that were shot down? But Roosevelt's invocation of this homily about the neighbor and garden hose is a wonderful way for him to sell it to the public, and that was his political genius. That was something that he had a kind of sixth sense for. You can't understand it, you can't define it, you can't put it under any scientific rubric. It simply was something that the man had.
My American Experience
Who is your favorite 20th-century American president? Was it FDR? Reagan? Clinton? Or one of the other 14 men who helped usher the United Sates through the 1900s? Who do you think was the most influential?