KENNEDY, John F. (1917-1963), President. Typed manuscript of a chapter from Why England Slept, each page WITH EXTENSIVE AUTOGRAPH CORRECTIONS AND EMENDATIONS. N.p., n.d. [ca.1940]. 12 pages, 4to, typed in black ink, emendations in dark blue ink, page 1 titled in Kennedy's hand at top.
A chapter from the young author's working draft of a chapter of his best-selling book, Why England Slept. Originally written as his senior thesis at Harvard, Kennedy chose the topic of Great Britain's shocking unpreparedness for World War II. As his father was ambassador to Great Britain at that period (and was recalled when he predicted a quick German victory), Kennedy had access to information not available to the average undergraduate. The title was a deliberate allusion to While England Slept, Prime Minister Winston Churchill's book on German rearmament. Kennedy's book, published in August 1940, quickly became a best-seller. (The young author donated a part of its proceeds to the English city of Plymouth, which had been heavily bombed by the Germans.)
Adopting the thesis that British democracy was "essentially peaceloving" and, in the light of its terrible losses in the Great War, powerfully hostile to rearmament, Kennedy discusses the debate over the expansion of the British military in the face of German rearmament. The chapter, headed "Influence of the Desire for Economy and General Disarmament Conference on British Armaments," focuses on the year 1933. He cites debates in Parliament, and the increasing concerns over Hitler's bellicose foreign policy: "The Army also came in for its share of criticism...Liddel-Hart called the five existing divisions 'suicide clubs.'...There were only four battalions of tanks in the whole army..." Then, Kennedy outlines the attitude of the British press: "...the Saturday Review...was very 'right' and Tory from the begining, and at different times...was to beseech King Edward to be a dictator, cheer Mussolini, and call for a war against Russia." He writes that the optimism of the government at the beginning of the year changed following "the Japanese notice of resignation from the League on March 27, 1933. Churchill continued to make speeches to disarm...[and] the country was pacifistic...It was not that people were ignorant of the possible menaces of Hitlerism, but...their reactions to that menace took a different form than demanding armaments." He sums up the British dilemma by blaming their "overwhelmingly pacifist" spirit "to an extent it is hard to understand now..."
In A Thousand Days, Arthur Schlesinger writes: "Why England Slept presents several points of interest. One is its tone - so aloof and clinical, so different from the Churchillian history he loved..." His purpose was to discover how much British unpreparedness could be attributed to the personal defects of British politicians and how much to 'the more general weakness of democracy and capitalism'; and he found his answer not with the leaders, but with the system...A strong sense of the competition between democracy and totalitarianism pervaded the book - a competition in which...totalitarianism had significant short-run advantages, even though demorcary was superior 'for the long run.'" (p.85-86)