On New Year’s Eve I was working on a submission for a national magazine in the U.S. It’s an excerpt from The Jew Who Defeated Hitler, which I hope will appear when the book is published in the fall (I can now say it’s coming out THIS YEAR).
As I edited, I realized that one incident in the article had taken place exactly 75 years earlier.
On New Year’s Eve 1938, Henry Morgenthau Jr. found himself in a meeting with Jean Monnet, a representative of the French government who was working on the purchase of military aircraft in the U.S.
The military hated the idea, believing it would interfere with their own orders and expose secret weapons to foreign government. But Morgenthau headed the camp believing the foreign orders would increase production capacity, thereby increasing America’s ability to wage war.
But he found Monnet difficult to work with, largely because the Frenchman insisted on secrecy and refused to divulge how France would pay for the plans.
“I find myself now in the position that the whole United States Army is opposed to what I am doing and I am doing it secretly and I just can’t continue, as Secretary of the Treasury, forcing the United States Army to show you planes which they want for themselves,” Morgenthau told Monnet at the New Year’s Eve meeting.
The story of the French plane purchases is detailed in The Jew Who Defeated Hitler. It is a forgotten incident from the buildup to the Second World War and the economic history of the period. When it became public, it created a short-lived scandal that shook Morgenthau’s Treasury to the core. It cost one US serviceman his life, and almost cost Morgenthau his job. It brought to the surface an issue that would plague the Roosevelt administration throughout the war – the need to supply the frontline European allies while re-arming America.
And in the end, it aided the greatest arms buildup and economic program in human history and showed the determination and frustration of the architect the economic program, Henry Morgenthau Jr.