In June 1941, the Americans heard of an extraordinary British mission to France occupied by the Nazis. Newspapers, including the Baltimore sun and New York Post, describes in detail how the British parachuted an airfield with shotguns and hand grenades, overpowered the guards and destroyed approximately 30 aircraft. All the members of the team returned alive to Great Britain via torpedo boats, accompanied by 40 German prisoners. It was an incredible story.
She was also fully made up.
Unbeknownst to the United States, the British foreign intelligence service known as MI6 planted the story in the press as part of a secret influence campaign to convince the country to enter the Second World War. With Hitler aggressively gaining ground across the continent and dropping bombs over London, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had worriedly lobbied Franklin D. Roosevelt for reinforcements against the Germans, but America firmly resisted to be drawn into another bloody war on the European continent. In May 1940, after the Nazis invaded the Netherlands and France, a Gallup poll reported that only 7% of Americans believed that the United States should declare war on Germany. In April 1941, aviation hero Charles Lindbergh and the America First Committee waged a massively popular campaign against the entry of the United States into World War II, a conflict that many Americans did not consider to be win-win.
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“Americans generally did not see Britain as a close and much-loved ally at the start of World War II,” said Henry Hemming, author of Agents of influence: a British campaign, a Canadian spy and the secret plot to bring America into the Second World War. “Britain was rather one of the main economic rivals of the United States.” In addition, the British colonialist empire, from which America had proudly detached itself, “was extremely unpopular, and that is understandable.”
In November 1941, however, polls suggested that a majority of Americans were now in favor of going to war to help defeat Germany. Why this change? Earlier that year, according to Hemming’s book, William Stephenson, a decorated First World War fighter pilot and inspiration for James Bond (Ian Fleming noted that Stephenson’s martinis were “shaken, not stirred” ), was installed at the head of the American office of MI6. Churchill’s personal friend Stephenson (codenamed “Intrepid”) began to use new tactics to influence public opinion about the war – and to convince the United States to get out of the sidelines.
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The British worked to sow American intelligence
“It does three big parts of what it does,” says Hemming. One was to persuade the United States to establish its first intelligence office and to convince William “Wild Bill” Donovan to lead it. These two events took place in July 1941, when President Roosevelt created a new intelligence organization called the Office of the Information Coordinator, or IOC (a predecessor of the CIA), and appointed Donovan – whom Stephenson had courted in as a friendly ally … to lead it.
“Most of the documents [the COI is] the move to the White House … comes from MI6 and British sources, and that gives Stephenson enormous power in terms of what US government officials read about the issues of war, “he said. “This plays an important and sometimes overlooked role in helping to precipitate this shift towards the idea that the British are doing well, that the war can be won, that Nazi Germany should be engaged.”
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Anti-isolationist groups supported by MI6
Another part of the secret campaign involved the infiltration of American pressure groups that were already trying to get the United States to go to war. MI6 members influenced the campaign strategies of these organizations and ensured that they had adequate funding.
In April 1941, MI6 members helped organize a demonstration against an America First rally in New York. When a protester approached the overwhelmingly male protesters that day, one of the men accused her and punched her in the face, causing violent clashes between the groups, writes Hemming. MI6 members used media attention to promote their war messages.
“Reports in the newspapers the next day focused on violence, with most of the articles also listing the various interventionist groups involved in the march and what their spokespeople had to say about Lindbergh and America First,” Hemming wrote in his book. “Anyone who read them with a keen eye could have noticed that some of the activists used very similar language. It was almost as if they were reading from the same script: which in this case some of them were. “
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The South American map and other “fake news”
The third part of the campaign involved setting up an office for MI6 agents to distribute fake news. These are stories like the one about the British fake raid to convince the public that the war against Germany was winnable and that the United States should join Britain in the fight.
At its peak, the office planted more than 20 floors a week. On the one hand, Stephenson’s office drew a fake map supposed to show Adolf Hitler’s plans to invade South America, and made sure that this map ended up on the FDR office in the White House.
It made. In October 1941, the FDR delivered a speech declaring that the map “clearly shows the Nazi conception not only against South America but also against the United States”.
“When Hitler learns of this, he is furious, he is indignant, because he knows that this card is a fake,” says Hemming. “And when Hitler delivers his next public speech, he will only be able to speak about this particular card.”
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The card, Hemming argues, has not only influenced the US’s decision to go to war against Germany. It also influenced Hitler’s decision to declare war on the United States on December 11, four days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It was something Germany had no obligation to do after the United States declared war on Japan.
Hours after declaring war on the United States, Hitler explained his reasons to the Reichstag, the pseudo-parliament of Nazi Germany. “There are many reasons related to Roosevelt,” says Hemming.
“First, he incites to war, then he falsifies the causes,” said Hitler on December 11, 1941. “Then he odiously wrapped himself in a cloak of Christian hypocrisy and led humanity slowly but surely. at war.”
Hitler’s United States and Germany were now ready for battle.