Creating a Reason to Go to War

President Roosevelt did not tell Congress or the American people the truth behind the Greer incident that led to US involvement in World War II. "I am perfectly willing to mislead and tell untruths if it will help win the war," FDR told a friend.

Transcript

David McCullough [voice-over]: By the middle of 1941, Nazi U-boats had sunk over 1,500 British ships, all but cutting England's lifeline to America. Without telling the American people, Roosevelt issued secret orders to the Navy to escort British convoys and, if necessary, sink Nazi submarines. The President was willing to risk war with Germany.

Newscaster: On the morning of September 4th, the United States destroyer Greer was attacked by a submarine, a German submarine.

Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt: I tell you the blunt fact that the German submarine fired first upon this American destroyer, Greer, without warning and with deliberate design to sink her.

Robert Dallek, Historian: What he hides from the American public is the fact that the Greer had been tracking the German submarine to help a British seaplane which was going to try and sink it with depth charges.

David McCullough [voice-over]: Roosevelt knew that the Greer had deliberately stalked the Nazi U-boat and that the British plane had fired first. "You know, I'm a juggler," he would later tell a friend, "and I never let my right hand know what my left hand does. I am perfectly willing to mislead and tell untruths if it will help win the war." Roosevelt did not ask congress for a declaration of war, but he used the Greer incident to justify an undeclared war in the Atlantic where he was sure the real war would soon begin.

 

My American Experience

My American Experience photos

Share Your Story

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?



  • Additional funding for this program was provided by

  • NEH

  • Additional funding for this program was provided by

  • NEH