John F. Kennedy’s Hand-Corrected Typescript About British Actions Leading Up To World War II and Mentioning England, Munich, Czechoslovakia, the Churchills and “Why England Slept”

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KENNEDY, JOHN F. (1917-1963). Thirty-fifth president of the United States. TL (unsigned). With eleven words in Kennedy’s hand. 4pp. 4to. N.p., (June, 1952). [To Time magazine editor T.S. MATTHEWS (1901-1991)]. A hand corrected typescript about British actions leading up to WWII. Accompanied by a three-page retained carbon of the typed final draft sent to Matthews. Additions made in Kennedy’s hand are in “bold;” bracketed additions “[ ]”are from the retained copy.

[June 13, 1952



Time & Life Building

9 Rockefeller Plaza

New York, N.Y.

Dear Sir:]

In your June 9th issue, Randolph S. Churchill denounces the “holier-than-thou” attitude adopted by some Americans towards the English in regard to Munich and states that England “had no more moral or legal obligation” to defend Czechoslovakia than had the United States. Mr. Churchill implies that the respective positions of Great Britain and the United States towards Czechoslovakia were on a par.

As a member of the League of Nations, England had an obligation towards collective security that the United States had not seen fit to assume, although it must be admitted that by 1938 the League was almost defunct, the major powers having no small responsibility for its failure.

More important was Britain’s military alliance with France under the Locarno Pact of 1925, which although it did not guarantee Czechoslovakia against aggression as it did Belgium, made it inevitable that if France went to war to fulfill its own direct obligation under the Franco-Czech Treaty of 1924, England would be drawn in. Prime Minister Chamberlain described this position clearly in his statement to the House of Commons on March 24, 1938 when it was apparent that a crisis was brewing in Czechoslovakia, and his warning that Britain would become involved in any war that France fought was echoed a few months later by Sir John Simon, Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his Lanark speech (August 27, 1938). Three days before the Munich Conference (September 26) the French received Chamberlain’s solemn pledge of absolute and immediate, as opposed to probable and eventual, military action if France went to the Defense of Czechoslovakia.

The President’s telegram to Mussolini on September 27th was a final appeal asking Mussolini to intervene with Hitler.

The British Government projected itself into the Czech affair by sending the Runciman Mission to Prague in July, 1938. Although it was announced (by Lord Halifax, Minister of Foreign Affairs, to the House of Lords, July 27th) that Lord Runciman would act as mediator in “a private capacity ”, he clearly had an official status; his mission was staffed by experts lent by the government and its expenses were paid by the Foreign Office. Moreover, when he submitted his report of September 21st, advocating the transfer of the Sudeten areas to Germany, it was printed as one of the documents in the White Paper on the Czech crisis.

Thus England was deeply committed, by her treaty ties with France and by her official actions, to the settlement of the issues at stake.

The illustrious father of Mr. Churchill has admitted that Great Britain was deeply involved and that “it must be recorded with regret that the British government not only acquiesced but encouraged the French government in a fatal course.” (Churchill, The Gathering Storm, 321.)

That the British chose peace at this time rather than war is not, in my opinion, to their discredit, considering the poor condition of their armaments. As I stated in my book, While Why England Slept, the criticism directed against Munich could have been directed with more accuracy at Britain’s tardiness in rearming than against the pact itself; and Chamberlain was to be condemned more as a member of the Baldwin cabinet than for his role at Munich.

Be that as it may, the United States had no political involvements in Europe in 1938. It is true that President Roosevelt sent – not one, but several – appeals on behalf of continued negotiation to the heads of the governments concerned in the dispute. This-is-very well known, and his appeals were released to the press at the time. In his appeals for negotiation, the President was careful to stress that the United States would assume no obligations in the conduct of the negotiations.

However, the President never sent congratulations to Mussolini for arranging the Munich Conference, as stated by Mr. Randolph as alleged by Randolph Churchill. Perhaps that is why, as Mr. Churchill states, “this is a fact seldom adverted to in the United States! ” The President’s telegram to Mussolini on September 27th was a final appeal asking Mussolini to intervene with Hitler.

On Tuesday, September 27th, the American government had heard that Hitler intended to march the next day at 2 P.M. In a final effort to stave off war, the President in connection with his second cable to Hitler, cabled a message to Phillips in Rome asking Mussolini to intervene with Hitler to resume negotiations. Mussolini did intervene with Hitler on Wednesday, and as a result, Hitler convened the four power conference at Munich. Since Phillips did not present the Presidents message until 4:00 P. M., it was widely assumed (and historical records support the assumption) that Mussolini’s favorable intervention was due rather to Chamberlain’s appeal, transmitted that morning through Lord Perth, than to the President’s Message. It must be noted, however, that the Italian Foreign Office had been apprised of the sense of Roosevelt’s message early in the morning and, therefore, it-may have had some influence on Mussolini’s decision to interview. (See FDR-His-Personal Letters. 1928 1945, 818 9)

On the day following the Munich Conference, Secretary of State Hull issued a statement: “As to immediate peace results, it is unnecessary to say that they afford a universal sense of relief. I am not undertaking to pass upon the merits of the differences to which the Four-Power Pact signed at Munich on yesterday related…. ” Hull writes in his memoirs that he did not wish to-disparage the sincere efforts of Chamberlain and Daladicr, but he could not commit himself-to more than Munich’s “immediate peace-results.(Hull, I, 596) That had been the official position of the American government through the Czech crisis.

The British official reaction was much more definite and clear cut. On October 6, 1938, after a week of brilliant and thorough debate on the subject, after an interval in which to cool off from the first excitement and relief, the House of Commons voted on the question put: “That this House approves the policy of His Majesty’s Government by which war was averted in the recent crisis and supports their efforts to secure a lasting peace.” The House divided: Ayes, 366; Noes, 144.

[Faithfully yours

 John F. Kennedy]

John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy, the son of an Irish-American bootlegger who became a millionaire and America’s ambassador to Britain, was a student of British history and politics at Harvard, penning a senior thesis “Appeasement at Munich,” (published in 1940 as Why England Slept that examined Britain’s failure to respond to German aggression after World War I. Specifically, it explored the 1938 Munich Agreement by which France, Great Britain and Italy agreed not to provide military assistance to Czechoslovakia during Nazi Germany’s annexation of Sudetenland. Calculating that it would avert war in Europe, the agreement was signed by German Chancellor Adolph Hitler (1889-1945), British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (1869-1940), Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini (1883-1945), and French Prime Minister Édouard Daladier (1884-1970). Our letter also mentions former British cabinet minister Walter Runciman’s (1870-1949) mission to Czechoslovakia the summer before the signing of the pact whose report urged Britain to allow German annexation of the Sudetenland. Edward Frederick Lindley Wood (1881-1959), Lord Halifax, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, advocated for British armament after the annexation of Austria and, though opposed to appeasement, defended the Munich Agreement in the House of Lords.

Neville Chamberlain, Edouard Daladier, Adolf Hitler, and Benito Mussolini prior to signing the Munich Agreement


Chancellor of the Exchequer John Allsebrook Simon (1873-1954) was a staunch supporter of Chamberlain who, at Lanark Racecourse in Scotland on August 27, 1938, reiterated Chamberlain’s March 24, 1938 statements before the House of Commons (both of which are discussed in our typescript) that England would find itself at war if its ally France went to war to defend its ally Czechoslovakia.

Cordell Hull (1871-1955) was America’s longest serving Secretary of State, a member of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s (1882-1945) cabinet from 1933-1940. During World War II, Hull and Roosevelt laid the groundwork for the United Nations in an effort to prevent future wars. Hull was awarded the 1945 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.

Upon his 1945 discharge as a naval war hero, John F. Kennedy became a reporter for the Hearst newspapers, covering the San Francisco conference that led to the creation of the United Nations and the 1945 British parliamentary elections called by Winston Churchill. Soon after these historic elections, Kennedy decided to follow family tradition and, in 1947, entered politics upon Michael Curley’s vacating his seat in the House of Representatives to serve as Boston’s mayor. After serving six years in the House, he won his 1952 election to the Senate, defeating three-term Republican incumbent Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr.; eight years later he won the 1960 presidential election becoming the nation’s 35th president.

Randolph Churchill

Our draft dates from JFK’s time in the Senate and was a response to MP Randolph Churchill’s (1911-1968) letter published in the June 9, 1952 issue of Time magazine about a review of volume four of Stanley Morison’s History of the Times in the May 19 issue. The review of the four-volume history of the London newspaper, The Times, spanning 1785 to 1948, used the phrase, “Britain’s ally, Czechoslovakia,” and Churchill sought to challenge “the myth that the United Kingdom was an ally of Czechoslovakia at the time of Munich” as one which “has long been fostered in the United States, and it is regrettable that it should gain new currency in your own authoritative columns.” Churchill, the son of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, objected to the characterization of Czechoslovakia as a British ally and stated that the United Kingdom “had no more moral or legal obligation” than the United States to fight for Czech freedom. The younger Churchill held a seat in the House of Commons from 1940-1945 and assisted his father with many of his publishing ventures including penning the preface to the 1941 Blood, Sweat, and Tears and editing such works as Arms and Covenant: Speeches and Post-War Speeches: Part II: Europe Unite: Speeches, 1947 and 1948 published in 1950.

Matthews studied at Princeton (which Kennedy also briefly attended in 1935, before ill-health led to his departure) and Oxford University. Returning to the United States, he worked as a writer and editor at The New Republic and Time, succeeding co-founder Henry Luce as editor in 1949, a position he held until 1953. After backing the Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson, a Princeton classmate, during the 1952 election in which Luce supported Dwight D. Eisenhower, Matthews quit Time and moved to England, where he wrote books and book reviews for The New York Times. From 1954-1963, he was married to American journalist Martha Gellhorn, Ernest Hemingway’s ex-wife.

The typescript has several staple holes at top left comer of all pages. The fourth page of the draft has been trimmed at bottom by about 3 inches. Minor wear and both the draft and carbon are in fine condition.

John F. Kennedy’s Hand-Corrected Typescript About British Actions Leading Up To World War II and Mentioning England, Munich, Czechoslovakia, the Churchills and “Why England Slept”

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