In August of 1940, more than 100 members of the YMCA leaders conference signed a resolution asking President Roosevelt to approve proposals to sell destroyers to Great Britain. The resolution was introduced to the conference by Dr. Laurence L. Doggett, of the YMCA Training School at Springfield College, and was forwarded to the White House.
Doggett’s resolution, in part, read: “The British navy stands between us and a Hitler victory. Helping Britain now is one of the best ways to defend America.”
This was something of a courageous stand by the YMCA. In 1940, while Hitler overran mainland Europe, and sought to bomb and starve Britain into submission, four out of five Americans – 80% of the American public – were opposed to helping Britain and thus being drawn into “a European affair.” And the American Ambassador, Joseph P. Kennedy, reported from London that a British surrender was “inevitable.”
But the YMCA, being an international organization, had a broader view. And so the resolution was signed and sent from Silver Bay to the White House. Less than a month later, on September 2, 1940, Roosevelt signed an agreement that sent 50 mothballed destroyers to the United Kingdom from the United States Navy in exchange for rights to build U.S. air and naval bases on British possessions.
The American public’s isolationist attitude persisted for another year, but reversed abruptly on December 7, 1941, with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
* * *
Photos: The first American destroyers arrive in Devonport, England, September 1940; Laurence Doggett.